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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.

Jonah33 - Jonah33 (2003)

If you're wondering what kind of band Jonah33 is, just check out the cover of their self-titled debut. Their figures are blurred and distorted, and you can't see their faces, but each band member has a flame pictured on his heart that burns passionately for Christ. That said, you really don't need any other reason to listen to Jonah33, but for those of you who feel you have to justify everything, read onward.

Wake Up, O Sleeper - Cool Hand Luke (2003)

I will admit, there are few bands I like that offer ethereal, mellow music. After experiencing Wake Up, O Sleeper by Cool Hand Luke, however, I'm going to have to reconsider some of the bands I have written off and take a closer listen.

Imagine sitting in one of those little coffee houses and watching the poets on stage with guitars in hand. Such is the environment I imagine Cool Hand Luke to be in as I listened to their album.

Photographs and Tidalwaves - Holland (2003)

Will and Josiah Holland would probably be the first to tell you that life has been anything but static as of late. After two years of playing together under the Somerset moniker, the Texas-born siblings, along with friend Tim Watts, have packed up and moved to Nashville, dropped the Somerset tag and replaced it with the brothers' surname and inked a record deal with Tooth & Nail for their major-label debut.

This Desert Life - Counting Crows (1999)

They say that life is just a random series of events leading to the same inevitable end: residence in a pine box, gradually rotting away until you become compost for next year's dandelion crop. They say nothing happens for a reason, that fate is a pipe dream.

Obviously, since I'm a Christian, I don't believe any of this. I base my life on the chance that there's a Greater Being overseeing the events of history and helping me along the way. And, strange as it may seem, I believe that one of the ways He has helped me involves the good people at Columbia House Canada.

Who We Are Instead - Jars of Clay (2003)

When referring to Jars of Clay fandom, you generally fall into one of three factions. First there are the Progressives, who believe that the band breaks intellectual ground, lyrically and musically, with each new album. On the opposing side we have the Regressives. These individuals believe that the world will officially end before Jars releases a better album than their self-titled debut. Last but not least there is the group to which I belong, the Aggressives.

A Rush of Blood to the Head - Coldplay (2002)

Questions and answers: we ask the former to find the latter, haunting untamed trails in our reckless flight from uncertainty to security. Once we find the answers, our confidence knows no limits, and we tackle any challenge that attracts our hungry souls. This is a journey that we repeat often-questions are always popping up, and we cannot allow them to go unanswered. Together, all these questions and answers weave an intricate tapestry that we call life.

Can't Bring Me Down - Justin Fox Band (2002)

One of the hardest things in reviewing-if not the hardest-is reviewing a CD that you don't like. Every reviewer is bound to come across it at some point, and when he comes to that bridge, he trembles before stepping out. There is a fine line between being truthful and being mean, and it's impossible not to worry about falling off that narrow bridge and into the depths of cynicism.

As you've probably figured out, Can't Bring Me Down is one of those disliked CD's.

Hope In Anguish - East West (2003)

The freshman release from Orange County hard rockers East West, 2001's The Light in Guinevere's Garden, was a breakout success. With Garden pulling down the Dove Award for Hard Music Album of the Year, copious Christian and mainstream chart time and nearly universal critical praise, the follow-up effort, Hope in Anguish, indeed has some pretty big shoes to fill. Songs like "Drink Me," an engaging, pop-inclined version of much of what appeared on Guinevere's Garden, find the SoCal foursome well up to the task.

Picking Up the Pieces - Seventh Day Slumber (2003)

If you want to be a successful rock band by today's standards, normally you'd pick up a guitar, stick three of four of your buddies with instruments, and sing in a raspy voice about drugs, suicide, and sex addiction. Most bands on mainstream radio have already discovered this "ticket to stardom." Seventh Day Slumber, an avidly Christian band, appears not to deviate from the above formula-at first listen. Amidst the slamming guitars and stretched vocal chords, however, something ultimately different, something positive, stands out.

Never Felt This Way Before - The Billions (2002)

If relative youth and a spot in one of the industry's most well-respected independent record labels seem like a sure-fire springboard for those aspiring to alt-rock or emo pop stardom, the members of the Kansan foursome The Billions seem to have taken their influence, perhaps more than anything else, from simple upbringing and geography. Knee-deep in music nearly from birth, brothers Dan and Sam Billen and childhood friend Jared Bowes had already formed a deep-seated love of music by the time they entered junior high.

Destination:Beautiful - Mae (2003)

Oooh. You smell that? It's pop. No, not the soda (you Yankee...), the music that seems to be the world's most attractive genre at the moment. It smells… old. Way old. Christian pop seems especially ripe, thanks to artists such as Stacie Orrico and Plus One. It's enough to make a girl want to chop off her hair and go rock-chick for life.

And then there is Mae.

Peace of Mind - Peace of Mind (2003)

"KJ-52 doing rock?"

That is the question most are asking at the release of Peace of Mind, a side project of the popular Christian rapper. Peace of Mind is a fusion of rock, hip-hop, punk and reggae that brings together an all-star list of producers who draw from years of experience in the Christian industry.

Believe - Big Dismal (2003)

In an attempt to broaden my musical knowledge this past year, I took a course titled "Music in Popular Culture." My professor (who looked like Santa Claus but wasn't nearly as jolly) explained to us the logic that Sun Records employed in allowing Elvis to sign with another label: it wasn't the singer himself that was selling records, but the new style in which he sung (the marriage of country and R&B we know as rock and roll).

Fallen - Evanescence (2003)

There is faith, and there is doubt. As Christians, we tend to dwell in the realm of faith, where we have assurance that our blessed Father has a plan to prosper us, not harm us, and to give us hope and a future. Between the extremes of faith and doubt, however, there is a shapeless, grey void that each of us has visited at least once in our lives but have never dared to explore. Fallen, the debut record from Evanescence, dares to traverse this region, plunging deeper and deeper courtesy of their dark, articulate poetry.

Stand Up - Everyday Sunday (2002)

Is "radio-friendly" a good thing? On one hand, it's a compliment because it implies that everyone will at least be able to tolerate it, and most will probably love it. On the other hand, it usually means a very "safe" form of music. It never stretches any boundaries and never attempts to invent something new; it is satisfied to rehash old cliches and recycle old chord progressions. Either way, Everyday Sunday is the poster band for "radio-friendly."

The Observatory - Cadet (2002)

Elvis, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Nirvana. All of them rock stars, all of them pioneers that have contributed to developing rock music. A more striking similarity is the content of their music. Though the styles are vastly different and the lyrics vary in degrees of vulgarity/rebellion, there is a running theme of teenage thought.

Furthermore: From the Studio, From the Stage - Jars of Clay (2003)

Time is a powerful weapon. It has the ability to tear down mountains, change youth into elderly, and sway even the sternest of opinions. Many people who say time is on their side are mistaken. Depending upon how we manage ourselves today, time can be either friend or foe. Whenever I look back at the young Jars of Clay from 1995, I like to think that time has treated them well.

The Beauty of the Unknown - Justifide (2002)

With Rage Against the Machine gone and Limp Bizkit in limbo, it appears as though the rap/metal experiment (hated by virtually every critic other than this one) is on its way out. Whether Justifide, whose Dove nominated Life Outside the Toybox was peppered with hip hop, is aware of this or not, they seem to be another band who is moving away from (some would say "maturing") that end of the spectrum.