Categories
Music Reviews Secular

Review: Revangelion

Artist: Brian Altano
Label: None
Producer: Brian Altano
Genre: Instrumental, Hip-Hop

 

If you follow video game news and coverage, you’re likely familiar with IGN. If you are familiar with IGN’s content, there is a good chance you also know Brian Altano’s work. Brian does various shows and video content at IGN, along with participating in their podcasts, such as Podcast Beyond and Nintendo Voice Chat. Among other things he does on the side, Brian produces instrumental hip-hop music.

Since Brian released his first album titled Misanthrope in 2013, he has released various singles, many of which have come from the Weird Heat podcast, which he did alongside co-worker and best friend, Max Scoville. With his latest album titled Revangelion, Brian takes various tracks from the anime Neon Genesis: Evangelion and remixes them. Fans of the show will recognize notable tracks like “Cruel Angel’s Thesis” and “Fly Me to the Moon,” but with Brian’s style heavily injected into them.

Content Guide

The content guide is usually the section where I’d keep our readers informed on any content they might not be comfortable with, but there are no lyrics in this entirely instrumental album. Samples that are used do not include any content worth mentioning here. However, if you are interested in exploring his previous work, know some audio samples do include the use of foul language.

Brian with David Soliani, creative direction of Mario+Rabbids

Review

The review process for Revangelion will likely be one of my most memorable experiences as a writer. It has been years since I’ve seen Evangelion, and I hadn’t sat down to watch it when it made a comeback to Netflix earlier this year. Knowing the reverence towards the anime’s soundtrack, I listened to its soundtrack alongside Brian’s Revangelion. I listened to the original tracks to understand the parts he dismantled and reconstructed into is own work.

As a whole, the style Brian has brought into his previous work makes a comeback in this album. The best way I can describe that style is melancholic. In his other content, Brian seems like such a positive guy, but with his music, he is letting us into his head by showing us this creative space he puts himself in when he’s not making content for IGN. I value that personal flair he brings to the table because we’d likely get a lame dubstep mix if anyone else touched it.

“A Cruel Angel’s Thesis” opens up the album precisely like the original song does, but makes a hard turn into the remix realm. I’ve listened to the remixed version so much I expect to hear it when I play the original version. I enjoy the disjointed sample along with the heavy bass and various instruments that come into play here—it sets the tone for the whole album.

Brian’s first album, titled Misanthrope.

Nerv is by far my favorite track on the whole album. Brian takes the old-school original track and juices it up with a series of drum work—I especially enjoy the sound of that kick drum. Nerv is a track where the melancholic tone I spoke of earlier was traded in for a what sounds like a battle theme. The deviation from the rest of the album works well because it doesn’t stray too far from his other hard-hitting beats I enjoy out of his other work. Listening to this song energizes me and makes me want to fight something.

“A Crystalline Night Sky” is the one track that falls short among the rest. I had to look up the original song because it seems to be missing from the official release I am referencing. The tone of the album quickly comes back down after Nerv, and I would’ve loved that energy to stick for one more song or gradually decrease the mood back down. However, I grew to appreciate much more as I further analyzed it. The song includes a nice build-up and breathes life into the original’s very slow yet beautiful composition.

“Rei Ayanami” is a track heavily adapted from Rei I. My favorite aspect of this song is how Brian applies the piano melody by making it sound spooky. Having listened to this remixed version first, it almost makes the original sound much eerier than it probably is. Rei I is one of the more memorable tracks on the original series album, and what I appreciate most about this is how different “Rei Ayanami” feels from its original counterpart.

There is no dilemma with my thoughts on “Hedgehog’s Dilemma.” The original song gives off such a peaceful vibe, and Brian successfully maintained that. This track carries a much more serene tone than much of his work, and I want more of it. Much like “Cruel Angel’s Thesis,” the use of the heavy bass is also a treat for the ears—especially when you have a good set of headphones. I’m curious as to where the title of this track came from, too, because the real hedgehog dilemma was Sonic’s original movie design, am I right?

The original series soundtrack.

The second to last track on the list is also my second favorite on the album. The serene feeling of the previous track makes a return in “Tokyo-3”. The use of drums is very prominent here, and what I enjoyed most about it. I felt so relaxed when listening to this song it made me want to launch into space and enjoy the stars. I may have to play this song next time I’m out in the worlds of No Man’s Sky or Rebel Galaxy: Outlaw—a great segway into the next song.

Ironically, the original “Fly Me to the Moon” makes me want to fly to outer space a lot less than the previous track did. I like Brian’s version much more, though I would like to see how he might have incorporated samples of the original vocal version into the mix. My favorite aspect of this track is the utilization of minimal amounts of the original track for the entirety of his. The final audio sample he has taken from the show was also a great way to cap off the entire album—I’ll need to go back and watch the show again to remind me where that part came from.

I’ve lost count how many times I’ve listened to the album, and have done it a few more times as I write this. Revangelion is the second short album I’ve heard after Kanye’s Jesus is King; at seven tracks long with a 21-minute runtime, I value the quicker experience here too. More concise records of this length are much more digestible and sharable. I can easily tell a fan of Neon Genesis: Evangelion to go check this out, and only 20 minutes of their life will be wasted if they don’t like it.

Revangelion is some of Brian Altano’s best work. It takes a lot of time to come up with original music, but I bet it takes much more to adapt something that already exists and make it your own. The album begins with Brian’s melancholic style I am so familiar with and eases itself into a much more positive tone I think more people will gravitate to. Lastly, you don’t need to be a fan of the original Evangelion soundtrack or the show to appreciate this album.

An early copy of the album was generously provided by Brian Altano, who you can find on twitter @agentbizzle. The album is available now on every major platform.

Categories
Christian Music Reviews

Review: Jesus is King

Artist: Kanye West
Label: GOOD Music, Def Jam
Producer: Kanye West, Pi’erre Bourne, Ronny J, Timbaland
Genre: Hip Hop/Rap

It’s taken me a full week since the album came out to fully form my thoughts and opinion on Kanye West’s Jesus is King. With so many people on the internet sharing views on both the album and his salvation, I needed to separate myself the best I can and form my own. After listening to Jesus is King a few dozen times, it’s time to unpack.

It was this year we learned from various sources Kanye West had become a “Born-Again Christian,” leading many of us to question his salvation. In August, Kim Kardashian (his wife) announced the tracklist and release date for September 27th. The album did not see that release date, and many expected we’d get another “Yandhi”—his previous record that went unfinished. A month later, on October 21st, we learned the new release date of October 27th. After the final touches were made, Jesus is King finally released at noon on that day.

Original tracklist and release date

Content Guide

I find it amazing I get to write this content guide with very little harmful content to report. Kanye says the word “damn” in one of the songs, but that’s the worst we see here. In this album, Kanye gives praise to God for turning his life around. He does mention addiction, but never gets specific. There isn’t much to report here in the content guide, other than praise to God for doing the work he has done in Kanye’s life.

Review

Jesus is King is much different than Kanye West’s previous work, in which he glorified the life of a superstar. In one of his last albums, he even referred to himself as “Yeezus,” and used imagery many considered blasphemous as it depicted himself in place of Christ. However, this album is the complete opposite with a focus on giving praise to God and his salvation. With this transition, a big question is whether it lives up to his previous work.

In the last nine years, Kanye’s work has fallen short of greatness. Kanye West has been known for the production quality of his music, with my personal favorite being Graduation. Jesus is King does fall short in this area, especially when some tracks seem to be in poor quality compared to others. Although, the experimental qualities Kanye is known for still live on. Going into Jesus is King, I did not expect it to live up to his early work which topped charts and has gone unmatched by others.

The album opens with his Sunday Service Choir, which feels like a sudden start at first but sets the stage for the 27-minute journey we are about to take. The choir makes a return in “Selah,” which feels like the actual start of the album with a hard-hitting build-up. The steady pace continues with a base-heavy beat in “Follow God” and is lyrically one of the strongest songs on the record, though it is one of the shorter tracks. After those first few songs, the pace begins to slow down.

“Closed on Sunday” is, unfortunately, the strangest in the entire package. This song includes the infamous “you my Chick-fil-A” line. It took awhile before I knew what that chorus was supposed to mean. I eventually concluded the entire song is about devoting more time to our faith and much less to the world. The chorus refers to keeping the sabbath and taking that time to close ourselves off to the world on that day as the restaurant does. I think the humor Kanye injected into the song keeps it from reaching its true potential, but also succeeds at its goal because it got many people to listen.

As we reach the second half of the album, “On God” is a decent upbeat track while “Everything We Need” serves as a great transition. The album then takes a slower pace into the direction of praise and worship from the hip-hop style many are familiar with. “Water” sees the welcome return of the Sunday Service Choir accompanied by Ant Clemons as the featured artist in which they further expand on the living water parable in John 4:10. The next song, “God Is,” is my favorite on the album; it’s the one song where he truly lets his heart and soul loose, and you can hear it in his voice.

An IMAX experience was also released alongside the album.

I want to address “Hands On” as well. This song, in particular, feels like an official statement to us who are already believers. He’s taking the time here to tell us the words he speaks on this album are real. Fred Hammond’s contribution is powerful by depicting a side of Kanye that is crying out to us and asking that we pray for him and give him a chance. It’s easily the most powerful song on the album, and in discussing it with various friends, I’ve been told some have been spiritually convicted by it.

There isn’t much left to the album after that. “Use This Gospel” serves as a great reminder and a call to action with Clipse delivering some strong verses in between the chorus with Kenny G coming in with the saxophone to cap things off. Lastly, Kanye declares Jesus is Lord in the outro to bring an end to the album.

Jesus is King is not Kanye’s best work, but also cannot be compared. It’s a short album at only 11 tracks and 27 minutes long. The short length makes this an accessible album to listen to along with others who might not have heard it yet. Much of the theology behind the album is also very surface level, meaning the themes are simple enough for a broad audience to grasp. This album as a whole is an experience, and a great start as Kanye works through his newfound faith. If he continues down this path on his current trajectory, I look forward to his next project.

Categories
Articles Beat Breakers Music

Beat Breaker: “If You Want Love” by NF

Song Title: If You Want Love
Artist: NF
Album: Perception
Release: 2017
Genre: Rap/R&B

Producing three succeeding albums in three short years, NF has emerged as an increasingly popular artist within the rap genre, topping both secular and Christian charts. While some of his music holds explicitly Christian themes, the vast majority depicts his personal pain and struggles with mental health.

This has undoubtedly resulted in a popular following composed of like-minded individuals, who can relate with NF and his life experiences. Valuable in and of itself, these themes also create a theology on pain and suffering. As “If You Want Love” constructs this theology, it manifests a set of questions which, on their own, provide few answers.

Musical Breakdown

Settled halfway through his 2017 album, “If You Want Love” draws a smoother tangent from his usual fast-paced rap melodies. Following the  contemporary song pattern, the tune is composed of two verses, respectively subsequent choruses, a bridge, and a final chorus.

Throughout the verses, NF explores his personal experiences of struggling to find love and endured pain in the process. As an answer to this, the chorus repeats the wisdom he laments never receiving as he grew up, grounding the core theology of the song. The bridge concludes with continuing pain now mingled with the hope NF holds, of finally learning what it means to have love.

Lyrics and Meaning

The three core declarations within the repeating chorus reflect the core messages of two verses and bridge. By doing this, NF lays bare his life lessons in hopes of not only sharing these truths with his future children, but also with others who are hurting. In verse one, he cries,

“Ask me how I’m doin’, I’ll say ‘okay’
Yeah, but ain’t that what they all say?
Sometimes I think back to the old days
In the pointless conversations with the old me”

Here, NF reflects on not only the ways we hide our pain behind shallow answers, but also the regret and ruminating we experience with carrying unresolved hurt. As an answer in the chorus, NF declares,

“If you want love, you goin’ have to go through the pain”

From the Scriptures: Romans 5:3, one of many passages on suffering, highlights the necessity of pain in the growth of a Christian, ultimately culminating in hope (Romans 5:5) and the overflowing of the love of God in our hearts. However, examination of NF’s lyrics would suggest pain is meaningless and arbitrary in the pursuit of love. Contrary to this, Hebrews 12 reminds us that, firstly, because God loves His children, He will discipline them. Though painful at first, it produces good, holiness, righteousness, and peace (Hebrews 12:10-11).

Following on from this in verse two, NF explores his own desire to control and manipulate life to obtain love as he shares,

“I’ve always tried to control things
In the end that’s what controls me
Maybe that’s why I’m controllin’”

As a contrasting answer in the chorus, NF declares,

“If you want love, you goin’ have to learn how to change”

For NF, experience has taught him that one must grow and change, rather than attempt to control others to receive love. Reflecting on his older albums, this struggle is evident in many of his lyrics as he has sought to control his pain as a means of overcoming it.

Yet, this is where the narrative of the song and the Bible begin to differ more explicitly. Continuing on in Romans 5, verse 8 reminds us that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” While the Bible heavily emphasizes holiness and becoming like Christ, it equally declares that before we even considered change, let alone attempted, we were loved.

Drawing his lyrical sermon to a close, NF stresses his fear of missing out of on life because of his own pain. He sings,

“Talkin’ to the voices in my head, they make me think twice
Tellin’ me it doesn’t mean it’s wrong because it feels right
I’m scared one day I wake up and wonder where the time go
Talk about the past like it’s the present while I rock slow
I’ll sit in the living room and laugh with kids of my own”

Initially, in all of the confusion and search for love, he ironically misses out on what he so desires. Yet, his hope emerges as he realizes he, too, can share these lessons with others. This hope merges with his chorus as the final declaration goes,

“If you want trust, you gon’ have to give some away”

Arriving at one of most frustrating paradoxes of our humanity, NF acknowledges that in order to receive, we sometimes must give. Love is no exception. However, the great truth of Scripture expounded here is simply that we are not the first to give. Rather God is, for He gave His love first.

Practical Application

As “If You Want Love” unfolds, it begins to sound Psalm-like. Rich in their personal anecdotes and pain, the Psalms form both a source of outcry and praise for the Christian. The example of Psalm 51, following David’s murderous and adulterous deeds, paint one of the most sobering and heart-wrenching accounts of the pain of sin and pleading with God.

While not based on the deeds of David, NF’s lyrics describe equally personable pain. Yet, while Psalm 51, like all other Psalms, point us to God, NF’s lack of including Christ draws him further away from the truth he so desires.

The core critiquing text used in this article, Romans 5, paints a picture of hope for the Christian. The Pauline chapter declares, “The pursuit for love is over! Lay down your deeds! Rest in unconditional adoration from God.”

Do you want love? Yes, there is pain. Yes, there is change. And yes, you must give some away. But the Scriptures declare that the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ mean that we are also found within the love of God if we receive Christ as Lord and Savior (John 3:15; Romans 10:9-10). This is unmerited love. And though the world may cry that we must painfully search until we, hopefully, find love… the Bible makes clear how love has already been given in unimaginable abundance.

Categories
Christian Music Reviews

Review: Perception

Artist: NF
Label: Capitol CMG, Real Music LLC
Genre: Rap

Following the growing popularity of his previous two albums, NF (Nathan Feuerstein) returns in 2017 with his third installment, Perception. Continuing to draw on themes of mental health and personal growth, he lays himself bare for the world; topping multiple US charts in both Christian and secular categories.

Once again, the audience is invited to vicariously share with NF in his growth – both as an artist and an individual – producing an album rich in authenticity.

 

 

 

Content Guide

Use of God’s Name

The blessing of NF’s new album is the complete absence of profanity. However, the presence of God’s name in several songs remains a questionable choice. In “3 A.M.,” NF uses, “I swear to God” while James 5:12 warns believers not to make oaths or swear by anything outside themselves, but rather to remain true to their ‘Yes’ and ‘No’.

Later in the same track, the use of ‘my God’ is not as explicitly questionable, but arguably is outside a reverent context, leaving uncertainty whether its use is tasteful or edifying.

Mature Themes

The fragility and authenticity of NF’s music, coupled with his personal experiences, allows ample room for multiple mature themes: his struggles with church, death, alcohol, and his own reflections on the promiscuity of Western culture.

While there is no ongoing explicit reference to God for drawing listeners closer to Him, NF neither pushes his audience away from God. Rather, he is found to be reflecting solely on his own experiences. For that reason, his commentary and music on mature matters is well worth reflection, but requires discernment and discretion.

 

Review

Following the 2016 release of his second album, Therapy, NF spared no time in producing more emotion-rousing lyrics. As he notes in the new feature “Green Lights,” he exclaims, “Three records, three years, I don’t like to waste time.”

The dimly-lit album art continues the NF saga. Reflecting on his previous two albums, and arriving at the third, some may consider NF still in a ‘cage’ of emotion. Challenging this, NF claims in “Know,”

Let you put me in a cage just so I can open it
Handcuffed, hands up, this is dope to me
Oh, you thought you had me captured? So funny

Drawing back to the album title Perception, it would seem NF is claiming ownership of his own cage. To those outside, he appears trapped. For him, it’s home, where he is free to leave or stay.

For unfamiliar ears to NF’s music, there is a common tendency to pass him off as angry or intense, similar to the likes of Eminem. There is no fault in taking this position, but the richness of his work draws from emotion and experiences, as found in his previous two albums. His most beautiful songs draw from his deepest pain, so it would be more surprising if his tunes didn’t carry such emotional weight.

Contrasting this, one might assume NF is solely driven by his emotion ultimately affecting the lyrical quality of his music. Combine this with his expanding ego as the album unfolds… and one has to wonder about NF’s motivation behind a third production so soon. On this point, others have been understandably critical of NF.

A concurrent element – requiring equal doses of our appreciation and concern – is NF’s devotion for creating true quality music. In “10 Feet Down (feat. Reulle)” he declares, “This is my everything.” And later in “Remember This,” he echoes the same sentiment,

Or maybe someday I can learn to be happy
Or maybe I can’t be, ’cause if the music ain’t emotional enough
Are they gon’ call me a has-been?

As the extensive 16-track album progresses, NF leads the audience on a disjointed journey. Songs struggle to flow together at times, but an emerging story forms starting with “Intro III,” where NF explodes into the scene rapping on his original inspiration for the album. This rough flow pays homage to the poor points of the album and the questionable production quality found in several other tracks. I’ll leave it to the audience to decide which, but “Green Lights” doesn’t do it for me.

He goes on throughout the beginning of the album in “Outcast” and “10 Feet Down (feat. Reulle) to return to his most familiar themes. Questions of conflict and personal treatment, which permeate his previous two albums, carry over into Perception and climaxes as the chart-topping “Let You Down” arrives.

The album later shifts as NF begins exploring his own romantic interests in “You’re Special” and the later pain of rejection in “Lie.” He shares the sage advice he received in “If You Want Love” and its challenging application in “Remember This.” These tracks show a growing depth to NF’s music as he explores the maturing of his personal pain as a way of moving forward.

Drawing to a close, the album ends on tracks that echo themes from the opening. The final three tracks: “3 A.M.,” “One Hundred,” and “Outro” circle back to NF’s growing celebrity image and his thirst for more music. There is no doubt listeners can anticipate further lyrical beauty from the increasingly popular artist. Yet, the exact form this will take is up for debate. Lack of consistency, in quality and meaning,  leaves little room for certainty as to his intended direction.

As food for thought, it is important to momentarily reflect on what we expect from NF. If we assume he will continue producing explicitly Christian music, are we justified in that? Multiple times in Perception, NF declares crystal clear that he will not please expectations placed on him. Whether we expected it or not, the one consistent reality is that NF will be an artist true to himself, not the artist others want him to be.

Categories
Christian Music Reviews

Review: Worthy

Artist: Beautiful Eulogy
Label: Humble Beast
Genre: Rap/Spoken Word

When Beautiful Eulogy announced the creation of a third EP album, the critical success of their previous two albums left no doubt the trio would deliver a sound, rich composition. Praised for their unique melodies, Beautiful Eulogy have earned a reputation for integrating explicit Reformed theology into their doxology and lyrical cultural commentary. Yet, where theology fails to engage the heart, Beautiful Eulogy paint a perspective rife with personal struggle and pain in their new album.

Content Guide

Following the practicality of their lyrical themes, “Mosaic (feat. Aaron Strumpel)” includes controversial themes of addiction, lust, and apostasy. However, while these are mature in nature, the theological context they are wrapped in provides a biblical perspective to these difficult, personal struggles.

Review

Despite musical performances, tours, and other record-related engagements with Humble Beast, Beautiful Eulogy had been relatively silent up until this year. Returning to the scene, when talking about the album’s influence and the sovereignty of God, trio member Braille comments, “Since we’re adding depth to the weight of words, if your angle and my angle are, like, very far apart, but anchored in the same theological truth, I think that’s really dope.”

Exemplifying Braille’s comment, Worthy brings the sovereignty of God home by fostering a reverent sense of adoration for God which arrives after a long dark night of tribulation and uncertainty. Though their backgrounds and experiences differ, Braille reminds us of the fellowship found in grounded theology.

The album art is reminiscent of the style Beautiful Eulogy has become popular for. The rich font and simple background emphasize the importance of the single-word album title, Worthy, demonstrating the high esteem and value of language found within the trio’s songs. Keeping in harmony with their Christo-centric lyrics, that which is considered worthy here is Christ Himself.

Beginning with “Weight” and later in “Devotion”, Beautiful Eulogy continues to bring spoken word to life through their unique integration of poetry and beats. The return of Art Azurdia with his rich teaching confirms that Beautiful Eulogy, while dabbling in new styles, is not finished with their hard-hitting mid-album preaching.

The collaborative pieces of “Omnipotent” and “Messiah” introduce a novel rock melody to the group featuring Seattle’s King’s Kaleidoscope and Citizens (formerly Citizens & Saints) respectively. These collaborations have been met with little surprise yet much anticipation since Braille’s appeareance on King’s 2016 album, The Beauty Between, and Citizens signed with Humble Beast September this year.

As the album wraps up, the penultimate item, “Slain” revives the chorus of the preceding album’s “Organized Religion”, now overtoned with a faster, robotic voice. Implicit in this is an acknowledgement to where Beautiful Eulogy have been and the on-going struggles they confront as Christians.

Closing on “Worthy”, the trio reminds its audience that Christ remains at the center of all worship. Having now shared their arduous journey, they end with the cry of Revelation that He alone is worthy of all praise.