W.L.A.K. – Review by Alex Larsen

After a few stints on the top download page of http://rapzilla.com, Collision Records decided to collaborate the talent. Alex Faith, Swoope, Dre Murray, and Christon Gray teamed up to create We Live As Kings. Each of the artists had some individual success, and a team effort seemed natural. The different roads to the album bring their own diversity, mixing flows and musical styles. The album covers topics including the redemption of a fallen world, the incredible distance from us to God but the closeness of God to us, being all in for the kingdom, the cowardice that can accompany power, the impending reign, what queens look like for their kings, the battlefield of our lives that God willingly stepped into, and our own kingliness. With topics so far ranging, the album has serious depth potential. The artists are talented, too, so it has quality potential. Potential, though, is only as good as the use of it.

The album opens with an introduction to the album, snapping the high hats and slowing it down with a piano riff on top of whistling wind. The instruments draw the listeners in, and slowly, gently, transfer them to the second track of the album. Imagine comes in quietly; it doesn’t demand attention, but softly coos “today I can see/ a fallen world/ and I can only imagine/ them fallin’ in love with you/ falling in love with you” as the album begins by calling on God rather than man. W.L.A.K. drop the beat, bringing the expected hip-hop to the album. The beat continues into the catchy, repetitive background synth in Long Way Down. The artist screams out “do you know who I am/ (look at me)/ do you know who I belong to?” as he addresses the evil that constantly pulls at him, one that brings him into a dance he cant seem to break free from. Perhaps touching a concept very common to the expected audience, W.L.A.K. drops All In with a seriously competitive bass knock. They slyly toss out hook after hook, “bet big, faith high/pride low, we die/ everyday we guillotine/ heads roll, no lie/ got a full house over here/ call my bluff” keeping listeners barely above water in the sea of lyrics that they lay down. Coward pulls out the flashlight to shine into the dark, declaring “too much controversy/ change the subject” to shed some light on how many people treat the questions tossed in their face. W.L.A.K. goes on to ask a hard question – “Am I king or coward?” Hope is brought right back into the picture with the next song, as Reign Is Coming quietly proclaims “I’ve been waiting for you to fall/ Your love, like a hurricane/ You’ve been waiting for me to rise/ Get ready for the reign” before shouting out the hope that exists in the return of Jesus Christ. The album goes on to rap about living for eternity, instead of getting caught up in the things of this world. They cleverly stab “I wanna leave, but I gotta wait/ This world sleep, but I’m wide awake/ Livin’ here’s screwed up/ I’m outta my mind/ living in the future/ Marty McFly.” In Broken Kings, W.L.A.K. addresses the things that hold every man back from being the king he is capable of being. The next pair of songs talk about the counterpart to a king – his queen. W.L.A.Q. describes, essentially, the ideal behavior, attributes, and qualities of a queen. Arena grabs the anthem chant of thousands of believers, gathered in a stadium, resounded in the song With Everything. Looping this choral praise in the background, W.L.A.K. cry out “Oh Lord, stone they all rejected/ still You did the unexpected/ stepped down from the throne/ Oh Lord, lower than the angels/ but no one else could save us/ cause You are God alone.” After the serious, heart-focused ballad, the album enters its final war cry. With one last track, W.L.A.K. use King In Me to declare as a final challenge “I don’t care what they think of me/ I’m standing here with this king in me/ I’mma become what I dream to be/ I’m standing here with this king in me/ the sky’s what the limit is/ and can’t nobody tell me different/ I’m alive and I’m living here/ I’m standing here with the King in me.” The album fades out with a patterned clap shattering the synthesizers and banging drums, leaving that last line hanging – “the King in me” – as a reminder that W.L.A.K. is more than a collaboration name; W.L.A.K. stands for something. Each of the members stands for something – they believe in something. They believe, as the entire album displays, that the King, God, is present in and active in the life of those who put their trust and faith for redemption and forgiveness in Him. That’s all it takes to live as kings.

Instruments of Mercy by Beautiful Eulogy – Review By Alex Larsen

Some bands form around a vocal talent or a musical talent, and find the rest of the pieces elsewhere. Now and then, a handful of individual artists team up, creating something unknown and beautiful. Humble Beast Records holds in their arsenal one such band. ‘Humble Beǝst’, as the label is known, is made up of individual artists that seek to “express [their] life through [their] gifts” to glorify Christ. (Perhaps the most well known Beast artist, Propaganda, has made great impact with his ministry, working with Dare 2 Share doing “Life in 6 Words” to help spread the gospel. His new album, Excellent, got some publicity even this week as Lecrae (Reach Records) wore Propaganda’s official shirt during the Billy Graham special “My Hope America” which aired on Fox News.) Label-mates Braille, Odd Thomas, and Courtland Urbano teamed up to create Beautiful Eulogy. With an unexpected collision of hip-hop, folk, and “church music”, Instruments of Mercy is catchy, if only out of curiosity.

The initial listening catches the music – is it hip-hop or folk? There’s electric guitar and a cello on the same track. There’s a tambourine, but definitely a synthesizer. People are clapping, but the drum kick is unmistakable. The opening track, Cello From Portland, brings in musical elements from all across the band’s repertoire. Just as a fresh can of Coca-Cola snaps and fizzes, the second track suddenly drops. With a repetitive, simple backbeat, the lyrics – packed with solid truth – flow incredibly quickly with rhythm that outpaces the snapping music. With the mystery of an unidentified flying object Exile Dial Tones begins to play, bringing in catchy clapping. With almost obvious honesty they spit “it’s not that they don’t like us/ it’s just they don’t like God in us”, putting into a song something many Christians have struggled to understand. They go on to proclaim, “we are the light of the world/ so shine on.” The album slows down with soft guitar, but the verbal attack presses even harder. The Size of Sin reminds listeners of the immense power of mercy and grace, but does so without stirring up guilt. The next track climbs in with a gentle piano introduction, setting up a quiet, Indie-style vocal declaring “only You can save me/ save me”, thanking and asking God for the same thing at once. The title track breaks up repetitively simple guitar strumming with choral vocals and quick-tempo spoken word. Symbols And Signs kicks in, ripping lyrical wisdom for almost four minutes. A call-out is left hanging as they ask, “…don’t you find it interesting/ how most of the time your self-interpreting/ seems to coincide with what’s deep inside your heart’s desires?  A low hum loops almost like a broken record in Release Me From This Snare, playing behind the band praying for Jesus to wash away the snare of sin.  With an up and down progression of rhythm, still laced with tongue-twisting lyricism, Organized Rebellion provides repeated examples how “with these hands/ I build or destroy.” A hint of Latin music salsas its way onto the album in Raise the Bridge, bringing maracas into a hip-hop track, but without seeming surprising. In case the point had been lost through the album, The Size of Grace goes over the inexplicable trade Jesus made for us, taking our sin instead of handing out our deserved judgment. The album closes with an opening line to catch attention: “on that day we will sing of the name/ more excellent than angels/ a purified bride/ refined heart, speech, and mind”, glimpsing ahead to the end of eternity. The song goes on to promise that we will “…receive a crown/ only to cast it down/ at the feet of the resurrected Jesus/ in a perfect ceaseless form of worship singing/ glory.”

The album isn’t what most would expect – it’s a hip-hop label, bolstering rap more than clap, that somehow blends the two. The music is enough to keep listeners entertained, with or without the lyrics. The lyrics are equally encouraging and challenging. As a whole, Beautiful Eulogy created an experience – one they offer for free. Simply a must-have for any music library.

 

Free download: http://noisetrade.com/beautifuleulogy/instruments-of-mercy

Royal Tailor – Album Review by Alex Larsen

Christian pop/r&b band Royal Tailor released a self-titled album in October. The band’s sophomore effort came after a solid debut in Black & White. Numbers may be deceptive, as the new album never crashed through the charts. The popularity of an album is not always connected with its quality, though. Like many albums, this one takes a few listens to really draw a conclusion.

 

To be honest, one listen through came as a bit of a disappointment. After releasing the high-tempo Got That Fire as a single, the effect had been somewhat lost before the album actually hit the shelves. The initial response, then, didn’t live up to the hype from Black & White. Leave the album alone for some time and come back later. The opening track does more than enough to bring the hook. Right as the intro song closes, the band smashes in electric guitar and smooth vocals on Jesus Love, which features legendary dc Talk member and solo-artist, tobyMac. Royal Tailor front-man Tauren Wells unabashedly proclaims the gospel message, singing “the sacrifice was given/ so my sin would be forgiven” to the pleasure of returning listeners hoping the band would stay true to themselves. Royal Tailor goes on to proclaim the beauty of creation in Original before slowing the album down a bit. At this point, listeners may have the catch of hesitation experienced with this album. Something doesn’t seem right about the slow sound, beginning with You Are My Rescue. The lyrics, after giving the song a few more listens, are powerfully laced with truth and humility. Wells softly sings “Wherever I am, whenever I fall/ You lift me up, You never let go/…You are my rescue”, getting to the heart of what a relationship with Jesus Christ really looks like. Just when the album seems to be caught in the gentle music, the band drops in with another pre-released single, Ready Set Go featuring the electronic deejay duo and vocalists known as Capital Kings. The song serves as a call to action – a pull from the Great Commission. The featured duo drops the lines “Give me the green light/ show me the finish line/… no more stalling/ it’s just ready set go” before Royal Tailor takes over again – “Broken hearts on the city streets, but/ I can hear that You’re calling me to/ be the hope, be the light, be the love/ right now, start it right now.” The band transitions into a song of assurance with Remain, insisting that love remains through it all. Sometimes a fresh start is needed too, which the band addresses in Start Over, blending soft vocals in the verses with anthem beats in the chorus. The album closes with a bonus track, Fight For Freedom (Let the Walls Fall). The final track enters slowly, quietly, pressing heavily on the background of rhythmic vocals. The tempo builds, begun with a quick riff on the guitar, and transforms into a roaring choral chant crying out for freedom, singing “Glory, glory/ Hallelujah” as they declare their fight to create the world they want to see – a world that finds its freedom in Jesus Christ.