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Crashings - Falling Up (2004)

It has often been argued that getting one's big break in the music world is equal parts raw talent and personal connections. While such a premise is debatable, those holding such a view could certainly point to the hard rock sextet Falling Up to make their case. Formed by vocalist Jessy Ribordy and guitarist Tom Cox during their freshman year in high school, the Albany, Oregon group spent several years touring with longtime friends and fellow Albany natives Kutless.

Entertain Us - Luke The Band (2003)

It was a grim, overcast Friday afternoon when I first listened to Luke the Band (not to be confused with Luke, the book of the Bible, or "Luke, I am your father"). For an indie band, they managed to catch my attention with the quality packaging of their Entertain Us EP. What impressed me even more, however, was the quality of their music. Equipped with nine solid rock/pop offerings, my dreary ride home from college was soon painted with energetic reds and oranges, deep, relaxing blues, and unfortunately, a few glaring black smears.

The Collection - Jennifer Knapp (2003)

Six years ago, "Romans," a simple look at Christ's death on the cross and how it changed all of our lives, hit Christian radio. It was sung by a woman with a raspy, yet beautiful, southern flair, accompanied by excitable strumming and fiddles blazing. For many of us this was the first time Jennifer Knapp came into our lives, and since then we've been treated to enriching, rootsy music with leagues of personal depth.

Payable On Death - P.O.D. (2003)

As the last few notes of "Eternal" drift through your ears, you sit back completely relaxed and marvel at how Payable on Death grew on you so quickly. It seemed like just an hour ago you were muttering curses in your head about P.O.D.'s new radio-friendly style. Now as the soothing, salsa flavored guitars—one of them belonging to Phil Keaggy—fade to black, you collect your thoughts and try to remember where the turnaround began.

Sea of Faces - Kutless (2004)

Few people in the music biz are unfamiliar with the infamous Sophomore Slump. We all dread it—musicians, listeners, labels, and music reviewers—and yet many artists have fallen prey to it. To avoid becoming its next victim, Kutless uses a "catch-all" strategy on their second release, Sea of Faces, employing the crunchy hard rock they're best known for as well as some metal, synth, worship, and yes, even a tad of adult contemporary. The result works well... to an extent. The good news is that they've managed to escape the Sophomore Slump, albeit just barely.

The Journey - Jacob's Road (2003)

People talk of traveling through life on a road toward some distant destination. As Christians, our destination is Heaven, but the journey rarely seems short or easy. In fact, it is often fraught with disappointment and frustration. Fortunately for us, trusting in God's plan and His grace can make the path a little smoother. "What we believe makes a difference in our walk through life," says Mark Robey of Jacob's Road, whose debut album The Journey encompasses this important concept.

Nu Thang - dc Talk (1990)

Take a moment and imagine you're in the early 90's. Better yet, just take a look at the Nu Thang CD cover. You're entering an age of brightly colored clothing, of puffy hair, of men wearing fanny-packs over sweatshirts... well, ok, maybe that's just Toby Mac. At any rate, Nu Thang is from a different period of musical history. As such, it really only appeals to two groups of people: fans of the corny, synthesized sound of early 90's pop or hardcore DC Talk fans like yours truly.

The Light of Things Hoped For - Brave Saint Saturn (2003)

The Light of Things Hoped For is best described as a teenage rock symphony. Some may be shocked at this description, but there isn't any better label for Brave Saint Saturn's sophomore release. "Space rock," though a cool phrase, doesn't really fit the musical style—the songs may be space-oriented, but frankly, the music isn't electronic enough to acquire that title.

Welcome To Wonderland - Big Fat Jam (2002)

Do you often find yourself pining away for the days of bell-bottoms, long, flowing locks of hair, butterfly collars, and tie-dye? How about crunchy, guitar driven "freedom" rock? Do you remember wistfully the first time you heard Jimi Hendrix or Lynyrd Skynyrd? Did you waste months of your life attempting to learn "Stairway to Heaven" on the guitar? If you match this description, if you prefer to revel in days past, I'd like to welcome you to wonderland.

Phenomenon - Thousand Foot Krutch (2003)

After a three year hiatus, Thousand Foot Krutch has returned with a softer-than-usual sounding album. Phenomenon amalgamates twelve very different songs onto a single album that has been gaining both Christian and secular recognition. With one track already being spun on stations across America and Canada, TFK's latest release has obvious staying power.

Then Is The New Now - Denison Marrs (2002)

Denison Marrs quote Ecclesiastes in track # 6 on their latest album: "there is nothing new under the sun." Though they doesn't do it themselves, it's easy to apply that verse to rock music today. One of the more popular new stars in my corner of Canada is Sam Roberts (a more obvious Beatles plagiarist cannot be found), and it seems that most other bands are a variation on some theme born in the middle of the last century. Even the retro blah of the '90s has been topped by most rock offerings in Century 21.

The Weak's End - Emery (2004)

It's probably safe to say that more than a few budding musicians secretly hold the notion that the life of the average rock and roll artist is nothing but first-class travel, legions of adoring fans and an instant and endless flow of income. Of course, those most familiar with the music business can tell you that, for every band that hits the big time, there are probably ten more groups whose day-to-day experience revolves around fast food, substandard lodging and playing to near-empty houses.

Tales of the Knife - Lucerin Blue (2003)

Roughly 30 minutes by car from the home I grew up in sits Goderich, Ontario. It's a pretty little town, sitting on the coast of Lake Huron and sporting the county's main courthouse, most impressive museum (which, admittedly, isn't saying much) and one of its few movie houses (a uni-plex that usually doesn't get ahold of films until they've been out for two months everywhere else). And to be honest, I was pretty sure that nothing much ever happened there.

So Much For Substitutes - Downhere (2003)

Downhere's move from the open spaces of Saskatchewan to the hustle and bustle of Nashville has not distracted them from the emotional experiences of the everyday. Instead of a grandiose introduction to their anticipated sophomore album, a modest acoustic guitar strums over Marc Martel's humble vocals. "What It's Like" opens the disc by tapping into painful emotions while recognizing Christ's effort to understand our struggles. "Isn't it always the question / How do You know my condition...

Seismic - Dogwood (2003)

Dogwood's brilliant sophomore project Building a Better Me established the band's rep as hard-hitting punk outfit with an intriguing edge. However, recent projects have failed to make as big an impact. While the submissions have been solid, nothing has topped the 1999 smash hit. Dogwood fans will testify that what endears them to the solid but not spectacular efforts is vocalist Josh Kemble's ability to consistently write thought-provoking lyrics—which he achieves again on Seismic.

Collide - Skillet (2003)

Let's rewind to September 2001. I was sitting in front of my laptop, much like I am now, typing up the review for Skillet's fourth album, Alien Youth. My goodness, what a grand album that was. I listened to it seventy-hundred times, salivated over it until my mouth was dry, and bought copies for all two of my friends. My closing comments went something like this: "When it all comes down to a point, this album is FLAWLESS. Cooper and Co. have done everything perfectly this time around, giving them a tough challenge to top in the future…" Yes, I remember it well.

What Are You Waiting For? - FM Static (2003)

After years of pop taking over the charts, punk rock is back, and with a recent addition to the Christian punk scene - FM Static - it sounds like the pop-punk sound is here to stay. With two of the members from the popular hard-rock band Thousand Foot Krutch, FM Static hit the scene forcefully. Their first album, What are You Waiting For? is climbing up the charts aggressively.

Astronomy - Bleach (2003)

I have to be honest: upon my initial listening to Astronomy, Bleach's fifth studio recording, I was stricken with disbelief. The majority of the disc had a rushed feel to it, and some songs seemed strained or unnatural. It was like looking at one of those 3D pictures that were so popular back in the 90s - no matter how hard I stared at one, I never could see the darn thing. Luckily, I remembered reading that Bleach planned on dedicating the album to Josh Byers, brother of band members Milam and Jared.

Perfect Change - Dakona (2003)

One common misconception about Christianity is that we have it easy. Of course, we're partly to blame: we paint ourselves as glorified boy scouts who donate to the poor, fight ozone pollution, and help old ladies across the street. Adversely, look at any Christian's life behind the scenes, and you'll see that we face just as many (if not more) trials and tribulations as the rest of the world. While they aren't classified as a Christian band, listening to Perfect Change makes it clear that Dakona's members are indeed Christians who have experienced these dark nights of the soul.