If you are new to Christian rock, please read this
post about the definition of Christian rock and some of the biggest questions about Christian music.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Top Ten Debut Albums

For this post, I want to do another Top Ten List. This time, I want to take a look at the top ten debut albums of the last ten years. This list includes a number of different artists and genres within the Christian rock scene.

I do want to mention the criteria that I used to compile this list. First, this list is completely subjective, every album and piece of criteria was created by me. Second, this list only includes major label, full length, debut albums. I know that most Christian labels are independent and not part of major labels, but I am including bands on major labels within the Christian market. Plus, I am only choosing full length albums. I am not counting debut EPs, or independent releases in my list.  Finally, each of these albums have been released in the last ten years.

10. Blueprints for the Black Market – Anberlin (2003)
Top Tracks – Readyfuels, Glass to the Arson, Na├»ve Orleans

I will freely admit that there are a lot of bands from Tooth and Nail Records on this list. For the last ten years, Tooth and Nail Records has dominated the Christian rock world by investing in a ton of up and coming talented artists. This album and group is no exception. On their debut album, Anberlin creates a sound that is both catchy and infectious, but also very diverse musically and lyrically. Musically, this album features everything from soaring anthems to guitar solos to even some pop songs. Lyrically, each song really seems to have its own unique story. Anberlin touches on a wide range of subjects including: changing the world, the differences between males and females, and they even cover a song originally recorded by the Cure. This album marked the beginning of a very successful career for Anberlin. Five albums and a major record deal later, Anberlin is still making great music for fans to enjoy. On their debut, Blueprints for the Black Market, Anberlin proves that they know how to create memorable songs that will get stuck in your head for days.

9. Attention - Philmont (2009)
Top Tracks - The Difference, I Can’t Stand to Fall, Setting Off

Philmont’s debut album is very straightforward. Attention features overtly Christian lyrics with a pop punk sound. I will admit, they don’t make any huge strides in Christian music. You can probably argue that you have heard a lot of their music and sound from other punk rock bands. But, that doesn’t make this album bad by any means. Philmont knows exactly who they are as a band: pop punk music mixed with overtly Christian themes. They know how to perform this very, very well.

8. What Are You Waiting For? - FM Static (2003)
Top Tracks – Something to Believe In, Definitely Maybe, Three Days Later

FM Static is the side project of famed Christian rockers Trevor McNevan and Steve Augustine of Thousand Foot Krutch. Their debut album is filled with eleven, fun, pop rock songs that are the perfect addition to your summer collection of music. Love, relationships, and simply having fun are the main themes that run throughout this record. To tell you the truth, the serious themes on this debut album are few and far between. The only songs that come remotely close to serious moments are Crazy Mary and Something to Believe In. FM Static’s fun attitude is definitely something refreshing in today’s serious Christian music world. The only downside to this album is the length; it clocks in right around 30 minutes. What Are You Waiting For? features so many good songs within a short amount of time, the listener is left wanting more.

7. Albatross - The Classic Crime (2006)
Top Tracks – The Fight, The Coldest Heart, Say the Word

One of the most overlooked bands in Christian rock today is The Classic Crime. In their short history, they have released three albums and an acoustic EP. Sadly, they were recently dropped from Tooth and Nail records, and their new album will be released independently. Nevermind their history, I want to talk about their amazing debut album. Mixing modern rock with some pop and even emo influences would probably be the best description of this band and their debut. Surprisingly, The Classic Crime has a great talent of going from a modern rock song with soaring screams to a pop influenced song reminiscent of old school Fall Out Boy. This is not only an underrated debut album, but an underrated band.

6. Crashings - Falling Up (2004)
Top Tracks – Broken Heart, Escalates, The Gathering

All the members of Falling Up were very young when their debut album was released. The band was created when they were still in high school, and they were signed shortly after graduation. Almost all of the songs on Crashings were written when the members of Falling Up were still in high school. Because Falling Up was so young when they made and recorded this record, you probably wouldn’t expect a polished or mature sound. But, by mixing hard rock, rap, polished vocals, and including guest appearances from Ryan Clark of Demon Hunter and Jon Micah Sumrall of Kutless, Falling Up’s debut is anything but amateur.

5. Letters to the President – Hawk Nelson (2004)
Top Tracks – Letters to the President, Every Little Thing, Right Here

Released in July 2004, Hawk Nelson’s debut is perfect summer fun. Like some of their pop punk predecessors (Relient K), this band chooses to speak about their faith through unique songs and lyrics. Every Little Thing talks about falling in love with a girl who is very passionate about her faith, the title track speaks about the many, many problems in this world, and Take Me serves as a pure, worship cry out to God. Plus, mixed in between these overtly Christian themes are fun songs about relationships, moving to California, and going to late night movies. Letters to the President proved to be a very successful album for this group, and helped fuel their career as a band. Since their debut, Hawk Nelson has not only moved into the forefront of Christian pop, but to the forefront of Christian music.

4. Hanging On By A Thread – The Letter Black (2010)
Top Tracks - Hanging On By A Thread, Believe, There’ll Come A Day

Since signing with the Christian rock label Tooth and Nail Records in 2009, The Letter Black has gained extraordinary exposure for such a young band. Comprised of Sarah Anthony, Mark Anthony, Matt Beal, and Taylor Carroll, The Letter Black plays roughly 150 shows a year, and has graced the stage with Thousand Foot Krutch, Skillet, Disciple, Red, and Decyfer Down. Their debut, full length album, Hanging On By A Thread, features a fusion between Skillet and Evanescence. The Letter Black beautifully offers a hard rock album mixed with dual vocals between Sarah and Mark Anthony, as well as driving rock and roll melodies. The definite highlight of this album is Sarah Anthony’s vocals. Throughout the album, her vocals are very polished and crisp, yet she has enough vocal ability to pull off hardcore screams. Soaring vocals mixed with hard rock melodies make this a great album.

3. Flyleaf – Flyleaf (2005)
Top Tracks – I’m So Sick, All Around Me, Sorrow

Flyleaf's debut is definitely the most popular album on my list. This album easily went platinum by selling over one million records. With major hits like I’m So Sick and Fully Alive, as well as touring with major secular rock bands Seether, Korn, and Stone Sour, Flyleaf quickly became a huge force in the rock music scene. Lead singer, Lacey Mosley, has one of the strongest voices in Christian music today. Flyeaf’s lyrics are filled with passion and intensity, and Mosley, who is only 4’11”, easily delivers these feelings and emotions with her voice.

2. Business Up Front, Party In the Back – Family Force 5 (2006)
Top Tracks – Love Addict, Kountry Gentleman, Replace Me

Unique and crazy would probably be the best way to describe this band. Fusing crunk rock with rap breakdowns, pop culture lyrics, and high energy, Family Force 5 took the Christian rock industry by storm with their debut release. Not only does Family Force 5 produce songs that will have you dancing for days, they also feature a unique style of lyric writing. Family Force 5’s songs feature a long list of wild and crazy subjects including being raised as a country gentleman, ex-girlfriends, drama queens, and being addicted to love.

1. Children 18:3 – Children 18:3 (2008)
Top Tracks – LCM, Search Warrant, Homemade Valentine

Children 18:3 is a band fueled by goth make-up, dual vocals, and raucous punk rock music. Rarely do I give an album five stars. I have only given four Christian rock albums five stars: Horseshoes and Handgrenades by Disciple, Dear Diary by FM Static, Comatose by Skillet, and Children 18:3’s self titled debut album. Children 18:3 is comprised of three siblings: David, Lee Marie, and Seth Hostetter. By playing together for nine years before they released their debut album, the three siblings compliment each other perfectly on each song. These three siblings have the maturity level and sound of seasoned music veterans on this record, not of a debut band. This record took me completely by surprise, and it could even be labeled as perfection.

I hope you have enjoyed this look at my Top Ten Debut Albums. If you haven’t heard of some of these groups or maybe you are looking to pick up some new Christian rock tunes, these albums are a great place to start.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Letter Black Interview

The members of The Letter Black pose for a picture in the Ichthus Press Tent on Friday, June 17, 2011. Photo by Marc Webb.

Since signing with the Christian rock label Tooth and Nail Records in 2009, The Letter Black has gained extraordinary exposure for such a young band.  Comprised of Sarah Anthony, Mark Anthony, Matt Beal and Taylor Carroll, The Letter Black plays roughly 150 shows a year, and has graced the stage with Thousand Foot Krutch, Hawk Nelson, Skillet, Disciple, Red and Decyfer Down.  The band released their debut, full length album, Hanging On By A Thread, on Tooth and Nail Records in 2010.  The band also released the first of three special edition EPs in March 2011.  The first EP, Hanging On By A Thread Sessions Volume 1, featured two unreleased songs, and a remix of their hit song, “Fire With Fire.”  On June 17, 2011 at the Ichthus Festival, Marc Webb had the opportunity to speak with the members of The Letter Black about their ministry as a Christian band, their favorite song to play live, and about their next full length album. 

Webb:  How many years have you played at Ichthus now? 

Sarah:  This is our third year. 

Webb:  Are there any bands that you are looking forward to seeing today [at Ichthus]? 

Sarah:  It’s funny because the Christian industry is kind of small in that everybody plays the same festivals.  So we know everyone. 

Mark:  We are looking forward to it because a lot of our friends are playing tonight. 

Matt:  It is like a family reunion. 

Taylor:  I am happy to see Family Force 5.  I like their show; they are good friends of mine. 

Sarah:  We love Thousand Foot Krutch, Skillet, Disciple, Red; we have toured with all of them.  It will be cool to hang out with them again, and see them. 

Webb:  Mentioning Skillet, you have toured with them a couple of times now.  Did you learn anything from them about touring or playing live shows? 

Sarah:  Yeah, seeing their show definitely challenged us to help step it up with our stage presence, show and performance.  They are really, really great people.  What you see is what you get with them. 

Webb:  Do you view your band as a ministry to people who may never set a foot in a church? 

Sarah:  Yes, that is actually our whole goal.  There is a time and a place to be in the church, and we get that.  There are a lot of bands that do that fantastic.  Our goal, like you said, is to reach the people who would never go into a church, that look at Christians as stupid and judgmental.  We want to go to places that no one else would go and love on them.  Show them the love of God. 

Webb:  Have you gotten a lot of cool opportunities to witness to fans? 

Sarah:  Yeah, all the time.  We aren’t the band that goes on the stage and preaches.  We definitely let the words of the songs speak for themselves.  They do very strongly.  So, a lot of times what happens is people will come up to us at the merch table.  We always go out afterwards.  We will talk to them, and they will have questions.  Or they will hit us up on our Myspace or Facebook, and message us.  We have a lot of stories about how a song has changed their life.  I can’t even count the number of people that have said that they have literally stopped themselves from cutting their wrists to kill themselves or shooting themselves in the head.  Literally saving lives with this song.  It is crazy. 

Webb:  What would you say is the hardest part about being on the road constantly? 

Sarah:  I think missing everything back home, missing your family, missing weddings. 

Matt:  Missing birthdays, missing anniversaries, missing holidays. 

Sarah:  That is really tough.  But, if this is what God has called you to do, you have to do it.  He knows what he is asking of you.  That is a lesson that took a while to learn.  I would be like, “God don’t you know that I am missing this.  Do you see what you are doing to them?”  He is like, “Don’t question me.  I have called you to do this.  I will give them strength.” 

Webb:  What is your favorite song to play live? 

Mark:  Wow, that is tough. 

Sarah:   I think everybody will have a different one. 

Mark:  Mine is the first song we come out to; it is called “All I Want.”  It is like a rock song on steroids.  That is mine. 

Taylor:  I like playing “Hanging On By A Thread” because Mark does this riff that I like to play to.  It is just really fun to play too. 

Sarah:  I like “My Disease” and “Wounded.”  Those are fun. 

Matt:  My favorite is “Believe.”  I get this fun, little bass riff to play.  I get to punch my bass in that song, brutal. 

Mark:  That is my favorite bass song.  Like 100 percent, that is the coolest bass song. 

Webb:  How did you connect with Tooth and Nail a couple of years ago? 

Mark:  They offered us a tour in 2008.  A couple of their bands broke up.  They asked us like two weeks before we went to do the tour.  That’s when we started building a relationship.  For us, they were the best fit.  They get the dark and crazy side of this. [laughing] 

Sarah:  They get the heavy rock and roll. [laughing] 

Webb:  You have already released your first EP this year, Hanging On By A Thread Sessions Volume 1 EP, when can we expect the other two? 

Sarah:  I think the next one is coming out in the beginning of July, and then the one in the fall we are still waiting to see when they want to release it.  But, it’s only available on iTunes and at the shows.  So it’s very exclusive. 

Mark:  We are playing one of the ones that come out in July tonight [Ichthus].
Sarah:  Yeah, we are playing a song on the July EP. 

Webb:  Are you releasing more brand new and unreleased music on each of the EPs? 

Mark:  We are doing like one remix on each one.  Also, they will have all new songs, either songs that didn’t make our last record or all new songs. 

Webb:  Do you have a favorite Bible verse, or one that always seems to speak to you? 

Sarah:  Mine is, “Be still and know that I am God,” which is in Psalm 46.  That one is always nice to remember.  Our life is very, very crazy.  For instance, today we have yet to sit down and relax a second.  You know what, every once in a while you have to make sure to take the time out to be still, and remember that God is God.  That is my favorite. 

Taylor:  Mine is said a lot differently in a lot of translations.  But, mine is, “He who is without sin cast the first stone.”  That should speak to everybody.  We are all sinners, but we should not live in sin.  But, we should constantly try to get out of it every day.  [That is] my prayer and accountability. 

Mark:  Mine is 1 Corinthians 15:55.  It is, “Where O death is your sting.”  Just kind of letting me know that death has no victory.  Over my body it does, but not over my soul. 

Matt:  Mine is John 14:6.  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the father but by me.”  It just says no matter what you are going through, if you look to Jesus you will make it through.  If you rely on him as your strength, he will lift you up.  He will pull you through no matter what. 

Webb:  I know every single person has a different story about when they came to know Christ.  I was wondering if each of you could share your personal testimony about how you came to Christ. 

Sarah:  I was born and raised in the church.  My dad was a pastor.  But, because of that I saw a lot of the dirty stuff that happens in churches, a lot of the hypocrisy and a lot of the behind the scenes stuff.  It really messed with my head.  It made me think, “If I couldn’t trust these people who are Christians that are supposed to be good, godly people, then who the heck can I trust?”  So, I shut down.  I started cutting my wrists and drinking, a whole, big, stupid part of my life.  I was actually in church because I was singing.  Not because I wanted to be there, but because I liked singing.  The pastor was talking about forgiveness that night.  I finally broke down and knew that that was holding me back.  I was holding bitterness inside and unforgiveness, so I finally broke down and asked for forgiveness.  I forgave the people that hurt me and my family.  Since then, I have been doing the band thing and living for God. 

Matt:  Mine starts with my dad, my biological father.  He didn’t show up to sign my birth certificate when I was born.  Through my teens, I started really struggling with being lonely.  Feeling like nobody really cared.  I just went out and tried to find it in parties, alcohol, and girls.  I got on this worship team with the church where we all met.  God just kept working on me.  I was invited on the team unsaved.  He just kept working in my heart over time.  I just kept making choice after choice to change from this sin or that sin.  It just finally happened where I completely surrendered my life to Christ. 

Taylor:  Well, I said the sinner’s prayer a bunch, and asked Jesus into my heart when I was little.  I wasn’t living the life though when I was a teenager till I went on this youth trip.  There was this crazy counselor named Jowdi.  He was from Spain.  He was always like, [with a Spanish accent] “Taylor, when we get up early in the morning, we are going to do push-ups with the kids.”  I was in shape; he was always wanting me to lead the pack of kids to do push-ups with them.  I was like, “This guy is really not right upstairs.”  He is making these kids do push-ups two hours earlier than we need to be doing them.  He was doing jumps off of a cliff on a snowboard, and hurting himself a bunch.  He basically showed me that Christians are not boring.  I always thought Christians were boring people that just judged people.  He kind of mentored me and showed me a whole different side of things.  I started getting in the Word from then on.  God just spoke to my heart that I should go out, play music, and lead hurting kids to Christ. 

Mark:  I didn’t go to church.  I wasn’t raised in church.  I went to youth group when I was in eighth grade, and I got a real bad taste of church.  So, I turned and really resented Christians.  I hated Christians.  I didn’t want anything to do with them or God.  I will go to Hell; I didn’t care.  I knew I was going there.  My mom kept praying for me from the church that the three of us: me, Matt, and Sarah met in.  The pastor kept showing me love.  They needed someone to play guitar.  So, I wasn’t saved playing on the worship team.  The pastor asked me if I was saved.  Like Taylor, I said the sinner’s prayer, honestly probably 60 times.  I mean, who wants to go to Hell.  But, that was my thing, but I never meant it.  It was New Year’s Eve, I didn’t say a prayer.  I just gave my heart to God, and that was when everything changed.  

Webb:  Finally, is it too early to give us a preview of your next full length record?

Sarah:  Expect it to be a little bit heavier.  A little bit more rocking.  We are going to still have some songs like “Hanging on by a Thread,” that everybody loves.  But, we are going a little bit heavier like “Wounded,” with a little bit more screaming here and there. 

Mark:  Just pushing the boundaries. 

Sarah:  We are just trying to up everything this year.

Below is the official music video for The Letter Black’s hit single “Fire With Fire.”