Category Archives: First Impressions

First Impressions: Blindside – With Shivering Hearts We Wait

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Previewing A Sample of FM Static’s “My Brain Says Stop, But My Heart Says Go”

Although much like many of the rest of you I am still anticipating hearing the fourth studio release from FM Static, the long time side project of two-thirds of Thousand Foot Krutch, I have given a listen to a handful of tracks, to dip my toes in the pool and see what the temperature is like on “My Brain Says Stop, But My Heart Says Go“.  I’ve already taken a look at the previous three albums in their discography, but what are we expecting out of this one?

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First Impressions: Emery – We Do What We Want

Honestly, couldn’t we easily have a ten minute conversation just about the album art and the album title, with all their possible implications and emotional attachments, without even blinking?  I think we could.  With Emery’s history of mixing emotional dual harmonies with the occasional screams in accordance with lyrics that cut to the heart, the band could really go in a lot of ways that wouldn’t really surprise me.  With that, I received this album with the backdrop of having heard for months that this would be their “heaviest” album to date (propelled by their addition to the Solid State family) and not really sure what that would mean in all practicality.  I’d heard everything from this being a metalcore album (it’s not) to it being like a heavy version of “The Question” (that’s more than questionable).  What do we really get?  We get Emery being Emery, combining the sounds that they have come up with on previous efforts and mixing them up however they seem fit, with the reality of chaos worthy of a Showbread record if Josh Dies had golden pipes.

We Do What We Want starts off similarly to In Shallow Seas We Sail with the classic scream/sing “The Cheval Glass” and the follow-up “Scissors” falls into the same category and shows off their new found love for excessive double kick drums that really make one wonder if they do indeed have a little bit of metalcore in them.  Yet, even in the midst of such thoughts, Toby Morrell’s vocals still shine through and distinguish them from the crowd.  The screams in “The Anchors” reminds me at moments of early Take It Back! and by this time it does seem apparent that we are indeed seeing a harder Emery, but with enough elements of what we’d seen before for it to not really be a shock to the system, especially since there are so many breaks in continuity throughout the album to get too stuck in a moment.

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First Impressions: Abandon – Control

Abandon is a band that I haven’t given enough thought about over the course of the last couple of years.  Despite having seen them perform live and having picked up a copy of their first label EP, I kind of just let me memory of the band fade and now I am here confessing this not because it wins me any points, but rather as a confession that sometimes I’m just not fair.  Reviewers can talk about being un-biased all they want, but it’s a lie.  We like what we like and sometimes what we love and what we are bored with is about as wide spread as the difference between red M & M’s and green M & M’s.  I mean, they’re the same thing, right, but when I look at them I feel like the green ones are a little more special.  It doesn’t make any sense, it just happens.  In the pop rock world, Abandon has been the red M & M, as they sound as good as a pop rock band can sound, but sometimes it is the little things that make a band blow up in my mind and a band being an also-ran in my ear’s listening Olympics.  With Control coming out in April and me getting a taste of it early on, I figured I’d give it a chance to see what I’ve been putting off.

Control takes no time to let us know that Abandon is a straight up pop rock band with a hint of synthesizing to give an electric sound that declares early in the album that you “can say all the right things, but you’ve got to feel it in your heart”.  The second track, “Help”, is rather forgettable among the early candidates of pop songs, but “Live It Out” makes up the difference with the most interesting of the radio friendly songs, followed by a more obvious single type song in “SOS”.  “Your Love Goes On” sounds like something from Tenth Avenue North, showing a slight hint of the Contemporary sound, but not far enough to distract from who they are or to go into the boring category.

If I hear one more song titled “Let Go” it will be ten too many.  That song title should have been retired after Waking Ashland nailed it back on “Composure”.  Having said that, it’s an okay song, I guess.  Whatever.  “New Years Day” follows with an interestingly simplistic piano pop opening that focuses on the vocals and a celebration of freedom from sins.  “Talk To Me” is a little too easy to overlook as anything more than background filler, though if you can pay attention to it like I force myself to it talks about needing direction in life from God, which is pretty much one of the top prayer requests you’ll get in any prayer group, so if you want some lyrics that you can empathize with that is the one.  “Push It Away” follows with another upbeat song heavy on the synth and a new perspective on life.  “Under Fire” continues the album with a song about dealing with persecution in our daily lives and staying strong in Christ by faith.  “Why Does It Take So Long” is a soaring ballad that could be used by someone for their American Idol audition, you know, if that show is still relevant in a year’s time.  It is apparent by this time that as much as the first half of the album is a lot more pop, the ending finishes things up with a plethora of slower songs, something not all that uncommon in albums, although there may be a few too many in a row to keep things interesting here.  “Known” can really be overlooked, minus the chorus saying “there is now no condemnation” (an obvious Romans 8:1 reference), because it is outdone by the “epic closer” of Hero, my favorite song on the record.

When it comes down to it, bands like Abandon sometimes get ignored because there are a few too many bands just like them.  I can point to bands like The Golden State and The Afters as my quickest points of reference to say that if you like those bands, then you’ll probably dig what Abandon is producing here.  There’s more positive here than negative and I think there is a pretty solid audience for this stuff, so I guess they’re doing something right, even if it seems a little too easy sometimes.


1. Feel It In Your Heart

2. Help

3. Live It Out

4. SOS

5. Your Love Goes On

6. Let Go

7. New Years Day

8. Talk To Me

9. Push It Away

10. Under Fire

11. Why Does It Take So Long

12. Known

13. Hero

First Impressions: Hawk Nelson – Crazy Love

BEC Recordings – To Be Released February 8 2011 – First Impressions By Tyler Hess

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First Impressions: Abandon Kansas – Ad Astra Per Aspera

Somewhere between the Summer of 2009 when they released their label debut EP titled “We’re All Going Somewhere” and the day after they released the single “The Golden State” off of their first full length on Gotee Records, Ad Astra Per Aspera, the band Abandon Kansas went from an above average also ran with solid potential to one of the most anticipated releases of 2011.  It may have had something to do with my favorite song off of the EP, “I Wonder If It’s Me”, being played incessantly on the radio that I listen to at work.  It is just as likely that the single itself showed the vast improvement of the band’s sound in that amount of time, with lead vocalist Jeremy Spring’s voice sounding full and soulful on the single (which proves to not be a fluke with the full album).  It could also be that when I saw them about a year ago that I fell in love with the t-shirt that I bought from them that I had to toss away because I lost too much weight since then for it to not look really stretched out.  Really, it could be any of those things, but here we are and I finally get a chance to sit down and listen Ad Astra Per Aspera and it doesn’t disappoint, not even for a second.

The album starts off with “Heaven Come My Way” and could easily be the anthem of my own life as of late, which Abandon Kansas seems to have a knack for with their traveling life not feeling all that different from what God has been doing in the life of my wife and I in our own ventures of faith, as Spring takes courage for their calling in knowing that God is there to aid them.  It doesn’t take long, either, to notice that Abandon Kansas has reverted ever so slightly back to their pop sound and mixed it with the indie rock that they were going for not that long ago and melded them together for a sound that combines both artistic merit and hooks to keep the kids lining up for shows.  This is evident in the second song, “Liar”, which if I had to guess has something to do with God talking to the band about seeking His approval over the fans affection, as the lyrics denote “Cause youʼre starving for their attention/And youʼre begging for their approval/They might say they love you/But tomorrow theyʼll be gone”.

Looking ahead a bit, if you haven’t heard “The Golden State” yet, you should, because it is (for once) a single that actually encapsulates what an album is all about and the current state of the band, even if the song threatens the livelihood of much of my family and friends.  “Where Else Can We Go” might be the most raw and emotional song with lyrics that bring pain and comfort out within the same breath, but might not be the easiest sell of a song on the album as it’s a lot less polished than some of the other songs.  I guess this is a first impressions thing and not a full review, so maybe I shouldn’t list every song on the album, but I think you’re getting the idea here.

Abandon Kansas is generally the type of band with songs that kind of have to grow on me in the first place, so the fact that I am enjoying Ad Astra Per Aspera as much as I am on day one of hearing it, that should mean good things for a band that just vaulted themselves up in my mind’s “favorites” list overnight as a serious contender for my year end top 10 list.

One last thing, because I bet you’re asking, it means “Through hardships to the stars”.

First Impressions: Bethel Live – Be Lifted High

What happens when you get a well known worship artist, a few lesser known worship artists and a few relatively unknown worship artists in one church together for a worship service?  Well, you get a couple things, the first and foremost thing being a whole lot of music directed for the worship of our Lord…the second being an American church doing their version of Hillsong, but thankfully an equally talented and inspired way.  I just received this today and have listened a few times already, so here are some of my thoughts.

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Sampler Preview: Aaron Gillespie – Anthem Song

By now everyone should be aware of the musical and spiritual journey that Aaron Gillespie has been going on over the last few years, having recently left the incredibly successful metalcore band Underoath to focus on both his pop rock band The Almost and now to explore his heart for worship music with a solo album.  People will surely question if this was the right decision, but I can testify that when the Spirit of God is calling, you are wise to answer the call.  I recently got the opportunity to check out four of the songs from Gillespie’s debut solo project and here are my thoughts.

All Things:  This song will be the opening track to the album and serves as a reminder that God is in control of everything in our lives and shows that he does indeed employ a lot of the same techniques that he uses in The Almost, just with more of an acoustic sound that plays a little more middle of the road than the scene friendly pop rock band.

We Were Made For You: This is by far my favorite of the four tracks that I’ve listened to, will be played in the 5 spot and has me screaming out the lyrics “You are God, You are God, we were meant for You ” much to the dismay of my wife’s ears, but I can’t help myself.  Aaron’s vocals can be a bit of an acquired taste that some will surely love and some will surely find a bit high pitched and whiny, but I’ll take the emotional strains over the doldrums of many CCM and worship artists any day of the week.

Anthem Song: The title track falls in the 7 hole and is unsurprisingly…get this…anthemic!  Okay, that was a bit too on the nose, but the song focuses on God’s holiness and worthiness of our praise and would sound great with a full orchestra…maybe he should borrow an idea from Skillet and play live with some of those fancy type musicians.

Your Song Goes On Forever:  The tenth song on the album and final one I get to listen to at this point is close to a ballad than the other three tracks.  The song talks about the eternity of who God was and is and is to be and the praise and comfort that coincide with that reality.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect out of Aaron Gillespie’s solo act, wondering if it would be either too much like The Almost or too much like some of the generic worship bands that inundate the land, but these four songs give me a hope that the whole album might be as good as it gets in the genre and it leaves me excited for this new venture of music and faith.

First Impressions Review: Hillsong United – Aftermath

The hardcore fans out there are certainly saying its about time for another Hillsong United album, I mean, its been more than two whole years, am i right?  Nevermind that the same people are involved in the other Hillsong albums that pop up every six months or so and that two years between albums is normal for most bands with just one project, fans don’t like to wait.  I understand, I’ve been there. I just get hesitant with Hillsong because it seems that, on most albums, for every hit song that they write there are six times as many filler tracks, making me think that maybe they should spend a little more time between releases.  Well, with Hillsong United, the youth band for Hillsong Church in Australia, they actually waited two whole years and then did the unthinkable by doing just their second studio album.  Did it pay off?

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