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The Goldilocks Enigma - Now What?

Where was The Goldilocks Enigma back in the covered wagon days? Christians sure could have benefited and been encouraged by their songs that challenge specific areas of growth and self-examination. OK, so they weren’t around back a number of years ago. But they are now, and oh how you sense God speaking through their music and lyrics…with twist. Songs like “Lies For Miles”, not only has their almost trademark of doing something new and different with their talent, it encourages and challenges you both at the same time—to keep your eyes open for false prophets while consolidating your faith. And you’ll love to hum along with the upbeat and harmony-filled “Come Out”.

“Now what?” is definitely different than what might be called “traditional” Christian pop or rock albums, and the differences can mostly be found in the lyrics—which yes—are full of praise and worship, but  The Goldilocks Enigma always have a question mark placed somewhere in their songs.

Their beef is obviously not with faith or Jesus, but directly with mankind and his odd behavioral patterns. So there are always warning signs in their songs to be on the alert and not to just blindly conform while finding our way out of the dark. They hit up this theme rather directly on “Church Of Walls”, which is one of my favorite songs.

You won’t find any fluff or sweet filler songs here as The Goldilocks Enigma move between varying acoustic-driven arrangements, featuring male and female lead vocals, as well as upbeat and slower songs. They run the entire gamut of emotions, while always infusing their songs with thought provoking lyrics.

And if it’s true that the message is the most important thing in a Christian music album, then you will find many messages here—probably more than you think, and definitely more than you bargained for.  Every song is a good one, with poignant, piercing, fierce lyrics and compelling music to match.

With lyrics that could make many a Christian squirm in their comfortable lives, The Goldilocks Enigma will challenge you to step up to the plate and be the example that He expects you to be, not what the rest of us expects you to be.

The lyrical and musical talent of this husband and wife musical team is surpassed only by their devotion to the ministry of spreading His Word. For those who want to hear words of uplifting encouragement, hope and grace, you’ll find that too—as you will—plenty of melody, harmony and musical variation.

The Goldilocks Enigma knows how to cut straight to the core and shake your soul awake. Add that to music that gets stuck in your head, and you have been given a gift of worship at any time you play the music.

OFFICIAL LINKS: WEBSITESOUNDCLOUD

 

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Mystic Chapel - Album Review

Review: The Project’s “Mystic Chapel”

Review: The Project’s “Mystic Chapel”

The spirit of an age is anything but ephemeral. Zeitgeists manifest in myriad ways, particularly in music and art, dress and speech, banners and endless slogans. The ghost of any historical epoch has a way of becoming profoundly visible.

To peer back at the Jesus Movement of the late ’60s and ’70s, then, is to see a kind of super-charged, Christ-centric explosion of art and culture, some of which simply poached from what journalists were calling the “youth culture” but included the tender shoots of sonic originality, too. To come to faith in the midst of all that fresh Jesus music felt revolutionary. Divine. Timely.

I wouldn’t know first-hand. I was born in 1976. But my dad does, as he was “born again” in the early ’70s only to run off and play drums for the Lord in a Christian community called Love Inn. That’s where I grew up—in a renovated dairy barn in upstate New York.

I asked him about it, once, the spirit of that time and its anthems.

“We would all have agreed that we had been sovereignly brought together in time and history,” he said. “To testify of our own experience with Jesus, proclaim the Word in lyrics, model the new life we were learning, and demonstrate the freedom in the Spirit to celebrate, have fun, and make great music to bless and entertain the audience, ourselves, and the Lord Himself!”

It’s hard for him to discuss the era without exclamation points. For him and many of his generation, it felt like history was culminating in their basement worship services, their dairy barn prayer meetings. The Lion was on the move. The King was set to return. Nothing was impossible.

The Project

Michael Glen Bell and Duane W.H. Arnold

This is the spirit infused into each track of Mystic Chapel, the sophomore project from long-time friends and collaborators Michael Glen Bell and Duane W.H. Arnold (they call themselves the Martyrs Project): expectancy, hope, honest-to-goodness belief in a coming kingdom just around the cosmic corner.

With the exception of some searing, plugged-in guitar work on “Hypachoi,” the songs have a mostly quiet, camp-fire quality and liturgical vibe. They ask to be chorused collectively, meditatively, perhaps amidst candlelight. There are no real sonic fireworks.

The lyrics, though, reflect some of that mid-’70s Jesus Movement awe and excitement, the sense that God’s reign was truly emerging in their midst—in their own hearts—on an unprecedented scale:

We sing with angels

Holding the eternal

Blessed to bear the light

Thy kingdom is forever

The power of thy name

Thy glory everlasting

From age to age the same

Zeitgeists, however, have a tendency to implode as quickly as they transpire.

Mystic Chapel

The foundational question of Mystic Chapelis, “What if we still believed?” It’s not that Bell and Arnold have lost their faith, but as they look back at the precise hope and joy and sense of purpose that permeated those early years, they recognize the chasm, the tumult of what’s come between, and the fact that for some of their generation, the early seeds of sincere belief were eventually coopted by rabid-right politics or mega-church spectacle.

Cue the hateful rhetoric and fog machines.

In this way, Mystic Chapel is a collection of nine songs that are at once celebratory of what was, a lament for what’s been lost, and a kind of bridge to the here and now, to the talented, creative young people currently populating Bell’s and Arnold’s lives, many of whom express deep faith (or desire for it) alongside disillusionment with the capital C church.

The album is a “love letter,” write Bell and Arnold, “to the faithful, to the ‘nones,’ the ‘dones,’ and to all those in between.”

More than that, though, Mystic Chapel seeks to create an aural atmosphere, a sacred “encounter” that connects the artists’ contemporary lives with the spirit of a movement TIMEmagazine once called “an uncommon morning freshness…a buoyant atmosphere of hope and love along with the usual rebel zeal,” and even all the way back to the eastern liturgies of St. John Chrysostom, from whom many of the album’s songs find their inspiration.

In the artists’ view, it’s an expansive, inviting space without walls, and at its center is kerygma, the “proclaimed word,” the same word they have spoken, are speaking, will undoubtedly speak forever.

It’s the spirit behind what my dad calls “a clarion call” to broadcast the gospel of Jesus’ love and power to change lives.

“It was on a banner in the barn quoting Psalms 19:4,” Dad once said. “Their voice goes out into all the Earth—their words to the ends of the world.”

On Mystic Chapel, Bell and Arnold proclaim it simply, strongly, and with great conviction. I, for one, am grateful for their individual voices, as well as their ongoing harmony. 

Note: This review is concurrently available at Evangelicals for Social Action

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Quotes From Reviews of Mystic Chapel by The Project

What Others Are Saying About ‘Mystic Chapel’

 

Mystic Chapel ... is a gift to the Church and world.

The Most Rev. Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R.

Archbishop of Indianapolis

 

The musicians are highly skilled... their words challenge us to hold on to the faith once delivered...

Paul Cain

Lutheran Book Review

 

The music is clear,  intense, and upbeat... It reminds me of the music of the Beatles -- '60s music, but with a Catholic flare.

Jean Heimann

Catholic Fire

 

Some musical components brought to mind The Beatles, Crosby Stills Nash and Young... The Eagles... Sting...  It is clear to me The Project want to communicate their deep faith to others through their musical gifts... They celebrate their faith and pass it on to us to enjoy.

John Predmore, SJ

Ignatian Spirituality: Set the World Ablaze

 

... A sense of mystery and an attitude of worship... a theological sophistication that is not  true of all Christian musicians...

Bob Cornwall

Ponderings on a Faith Journey

 

Might it sound odd to say their music reminds me of Phil Keaggy meets The Beach Boys... This is not today’s corporate American vanilla Coldplay-sounding megachurch music...

Mark Weber

Christian Music Makers

 

... The entire album has an otherworldly quality. In ‘Mystic Chapel’, The Project brings us a dream, or perhaps a vision, of the journey that is our faith.

Lisa Deam

Ancient Future Faith Network

 

So much of Christian music today is shallow and sallow lyrically, theologically and musically.  We have here a remedy to all those ills...

Michael Newnham

Phoenix Preacher

 

... the tunes are strong, the music beautifully clear, and the packaging... is created artistically and with care.... this is a highly professional production with spiritual integrity, and a release with one foot in the seventies, but the other striding towards the future. 

Derek Walker

Church of England Newspaper

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The State of Christian Music

Where the Road and Sky Collide:  Reclaiming CCM

by Duane W.H. Arnold PHD

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WHERE THE ROAD AND THE SKY COLLIDE

“When we come to place where the road and the sky collide

Throw me over the edge and let my spirit glide”

~Jackson Browne

 

Long, long ago, in a land far, far away there was a time and a place where contemporary Christian music mattered.

It had started slowly. It had not been planned. No one thought of it as an industry and there weren’t too many rules. It arose in the most unlikely places and, for the most part, many of the early pioneers were only vaguely aware of each other. It came out of Hollywood and the first solo albums of Larry Norman. It came out of the Pacific Northwest with the band Wilson McKinley. It broke the surface in Ohio with the All Saved Freaks Band and a local club band, Glass Harp, featuring a guitar player named Phil Keaggy. At Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, bands like Love Song and singers such as Karen Lafferty emerged, encouraged by their pastor, Chuck Smith.

Within a very short time, other new voices were heard. The Calvary Chapel Maranatha roster filled out with new bands and solo artists. Norman began to think of a Christian alternative label, modeled on David Geffen’s Asylum Records. His first recruit was a wiry young singer/songwriter named Randy Stonehill. In the midwest, Petra, headed by Bob Hartman, emerged as a genuine Christian rock band from Adam’s Apple (an outreach of Calvary Temple in Ft. Wayne, IN). Meanwhile, north of Chicago, Glenn Kaiser began assembling Resurrection Band.

So it all began. Musical stylings ranged from Laurel Canyon inspired singer/songwriters to Led Zeppelin influenced bands to country rock devotees. Venues ranged from Saturday night concerts at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa to small fellowship coffeehouses in rural Ohio to the Love Inn in upstate New York. Yet, in the midst of this diversity there was a unifying purpose – evangelism to those outside of the Church, a prophetic message to those within – and all of this laced with addressing the human condition. It was not safe. Venues, songwriters and bands were taking risks and, by the way, if as a musician you led worship, it was pretty well limited to the Church or a Bible study group. Worship was a part of the life of faith, not a commercial musical genre.

That’s the way it was when contemporary Christian music still mattered.

Now, this is not to envelop that time with a “heavenly glow”. There was a good bit of craziness that went on back in the day. For every good band or songwriter, there were always a good number that were really bad! I know, we heard them. Perhaps the difference between now and then, is that back in the day we could say, “they’re really bad” and not be consigned to outer darkness. I wish that I could remember the number of times that someone was on stage singing, having prefaced their performance with the assertion, “The Lord gave me this song”, only to hear someone else seated near to me say, “They ought to give it back…” Now, this was not said with the finality of the Last Judgement. It was simply said as a matter of reality. What mattered was authenticity and, what we all admired, musical expertise and lyrics that were clever and communicated something real.

That reality could stretch across a variety of musical stylings from Larry Norman’s Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music (remember the first time you heard it…) to John Michael Talbot’s Would You Crucify Him? to Keith Green’s Your Love Broke Through. All that mattered was that it was authentic, musically competent and real. And that is why we would ask a non-believing friend to go to a Larry Norman concert with us. It’s why we would ask a non-believing guitarist to come along and see Phil Keaggy. It’s why Resurrection Band could set up and play in a public park to a largely secular audience. They weren’t involved in the exercise of “in-speak” in terms of the Church or coded religious language – they were speaking to the culture, as well as to those believers who were reaching out to the culture. We did it at the time, because few others were willing to do it. We did it because when we looked at so many of the large evangelical and charismatic churches all we saw were people perpetuating a “ghetto mentality” of “in-speak” and “worship behind walls” that failed to interact or even to speak to the world in which we lived.

And now, almost a lifetime later, we’re back in the same place.

It’s important to realize that mega-churches and worship events are not a new phenomena. They are a continuation of American folk religion that stretches from the late 18th century Great Awakening through the revivalism of the 19th century, the fundamentalist and charismatic revival of the mid-20th century on to the current expression of this ideal in the early 21st century. Even in the late 1960s and 1970s, the off campus “revival meeting” was a staple of American religious life, replete with gospel quartets (most from the South and usually based in Nashville) that all sounded the same, the occasional soloist who had a “gift” for leading worship and the obligatory sermon, ending with an “altar call” mainly directed to those who were already well aware of the Christian message. The format, of course, found its way into the regular Sunday services of most large evangelical and charismatic churches with in-house quartets and soloists doing the same music as had been done at the revival meeting. And it was all the same music. You could change the performers, you could change the lyrics, but it was all the same. It existed in a cultural and theological vacuum that held little or no attraction to those of us who had just heard Only Visiting This Planet or Awaiting Your Reply, much less those on the outside who were listening to Jackson Browne, the Stones or The Who on their car radios or were tuning into their favorite FM station to listen to Springsteen, The Eagles, Black Sabbath or, by the mid70s, that new band from Ireland, U2.

Fast forward to 2016 and, yes, here we are again, back to the model contemporary Christian music and most of us had rejected – a model that had failed, and continues to fail, in engaging the culture.

In the current incarnation, the model is much the same. Worship events are staged (I use the word advisedly), the bands (most of whom are based in Nashville) come on with every riff that might be stolen from The Edge. The soloist by self definition is a “worship leader” who leads the crowd in singing the lyrics on the overhead screens. The lights flash like a Vegas casino show; the fog machines add the air of mystery, drama and ambience and the crowd sings along. The “positive and encouraging” message is given and the altar-less altar call is made to the thousands that have made their way to the venue in church chartered buses. All that remains is making one’s way to the merchandise tables on the way out the door for CDs, t-shirts, glow sticks and whatever else might sell. They return to their churches expecting a localized version of what they have experienced and, sure enough, next Sunday in the auditorium (you could not call it a sanctuary) they will experience their very own praise band with the same U2 chord progressions, the stage lights, and the “theology-lite” encouraging message.

Welcome to early 21st century folk religion. Welcome to the Christian music ghetto.

So now “we come to the place where the road and the sky collide”. We see what has happened, but what can we do about it? Nostalgia for something that is gone will accomplish little. There are, however, concrete actions that we can take to make a change.

Firstly, we can reject the “ghetto mentality” of the current contemporary Christian music scene. It can take place at a grassroots level. If you want to support and encourage emerging faith based singer/songwriters and bands, give them a venue, a place to play. Currently, when someone comes forward in a church with any sort of musical gift, the first instinct is to “put them in the praise band”, and the pattern of performance, influence and expectation are completely based upon the current worship scene. Instead, take a listen to their music, their gift, apart from a singular expectation of what they might do in the praise band or as a worship leader.   Have them offer a song as special music. Consider setting up a small venue or coffeehouse on set evenings where music can be shared. Live music is still valued and will find an audience, but people need a place where it can be experienced. Once you set a venue, bring people in – audience and performers – who are not necessarily part of your particular faith community. If you want to break out of the ghetto of the current Christian music scene, then break out of your own siloed off community by bringing in musicians, singer/songwriters and bands from the outside. Who knows, you might even end up with a small circuit of venues which might enable you to invite an artist to do a small tour. It may seem risky, but one thing is certain – if we wait for the corporate side of contemporary Christian music to reinvigorate the genre, we will die waiting because it simply will not happen.

Secondly, if you don’t like hearing the same twenty or thirty songs on Christian radio, repeated over and over again, TELL THEM! Two corporate entities, Salem Web and Air1, control almost 95% of what is programmed to be played on Christian radio stations in the United States. Email your local Christian radio station with your thoughts, concerns and suggestions. Copy it to their corporate headquarters. They may or may not respond, but let them hear your voice. Their self-described demographic for listeners they are reaching is a narrow band of mainly women between the ages of 13 and 30. The music has to be safe and, of course, “positive and encouraging”. So, we get praise and worship songs… no edge… no prophetic voice and, in the main, very little artistry. When combined with a careful, but thinly veiled conservative political agenda (see the politics of Salem in their publishing arm) it is a stultifying combination. All that being said, the corporate entities are businesses that have to be concerned with their market and their market share. If enough listeners say “no”, there is at least a chance to make a change.

Finally, support the artists that speak to you. In the most basic terms this means buying their music. Whether paying for a download from iTunes or ordering a CD (or vinyl album) from the artist’s website, you are supporting their art and, in the case of Christian musicians, their ministry. Streaming may work for Kanye, Drake or Taylor Swift, but it does very little to nothing for most indie artists, especially Christian indie artists (and not much more for Christian artists that are signed to labels). If you are part of a faith community, tell the leadership how you feel about the music you hear week to week. Make them aware of other emerging artists that you are listening to and want to support by providing live music or concert venues. Offer to help with setting up a concert series or volunteer to assist in outreach ministries that involve music.

It is really up to us, artists and listeners alike, to reclaim the vision of what Christian music can be at its best. Then, maybe, we will no longer have to say, “Long, long ago, in a land far, far away there was a time and a place where contemporary Christian music mattered.”

 

 

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Mystic Chapel

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The first album released by The Project – Martyrs Prayers – was a masterpiece which explored different aspects of Christian Martyrdom in the words of a number of prominent martyrs themselves. For their second outing, however, The Project have chosen a much less intense theme – a meditative mystical “mountaintop” experience inspired by the Easter Liturgies of St. John Chrysostom, the great theologian of the Eastern Orthodox Church. In place of the variety of styles and moods presented in Martyrs Prayers, Mystic Chapel offers a consistent, contemplative feel throughout, dominated by acoustic guitar and vocal harmonies, although often augmented with other subtle instrumentation. Even the structure of the songs themselves on Mystic Chapel reflect this intentional change of tone. Instead of the dramatic build-up of emotion we find in the songs on Martyrs Prayers - as the musical themes are continually expanded and developed - the songs of Mystic Chapel rely on simple repetition to convey its serene message.

The album takes us on a liturgical journey which works on two entirely different levels simultaneously. The first is the way in which it carries us through the Easter Liturgies. After the instrumental Prelude, we have an opening song of praise – Come Let Us Worship - which combines elements of the Psalms, of the Kyrie, and of other ancient texts. This leads into a setting of the “Phos Hilaron” - Joyous Light – a beautiful canticle associated with Vespers (evening prayer), placing us, therefore, in the evening before Easter morning. The song ends with a transitional instrumental passage, carrying us through the night in anticipation of the sunrise, and flowing seamlessly into the next song – Hypachoi – in which the dawn arrives and the angel announces to the women at the tomb that Jesus has risen. This sequence is perhaps the most effective portion of the entire album. This is then followed by a celebration of the resurrection in Death Is Destroyed as the full light of morning is revealed. We Sing with Angels is then an adaptation of Mary's Magnificat, recast in the light of Easter, now that the promises given her by the angel before Jesus' birth have been fulfilled by the angel's announcement of his resurrection. The whole church joins in joy with Mary and the angels in From on High. The album then ends with a meditation on the Lord's Prayer – Holy Father – and a final instrumental Postlude.

But all of these songs have also been arranged in such a way as to reflect the basic pattern of the ancient Jewish synagogue service, which also became the pattern for Christian worship, a four-part pattern of Psalms, Scripture lessons, meditations on the Scriptures, and Prayers. Here, the songs of praise - Come Let Us Worship and Joyous Light – serve the function of the Psalms, an initial service of praise. The Scripture lessons, here telling the story of the resurrection, are found in the songs Hypachoi and Death Is Destroyed. We Sing with Angels then serves as a meditation on these lessons [corresponding to the Sermon in most Christian services], which is then followed by the people's response in From on High, a basic creedal statement. And finally, Holy Father serves as the Prayers of the people.

What all of this means is that Michael Glen Bell and Duane W. H. Arnold know exactly what they are doing. These patterns continue to provide the shape of Christian worship because they speak to us on deeply spiritual, emotional (and even intellectual) levels.

Yet all of this is also contained within the overarching “story” of the album, of a traveller, weary of the world, who stumbles upon the Mystic Chapel and is transformed by his experience there, so that in the end he returns to the “real world” with new hope and energy, which is of course precisely the effect Christian liturgy should produce. This transformation is portrayed in the Prelude and Postlude, both based on the same themes, but conveying quite different moods. The Prelude is dark and foreboding, expressing the searching and uncertainty of the traveller, whereas the Postlude, through the use of a brighter sounding electric guitar in place of the acoustic guitar of the Prelude, and by modifying some of the minor chords of the Prelude to major chords (and indeed, ending on a major chord), reflects the new-found hope and peace of the traveller.

In summary, Mystic Chapel is a gentle and positive album, soothing to the soul, just as Martyrs Prayers was challenging.

www.themartyrsproject.com

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Interview With The Project - Mystic Chapel

In today's musical climate, people aren't required to be masters of an instrument; if you have a decent computer and a keyboard, you can make something wonderful. (That's not a bad thing - it's just an observant fact.) Long gone are the days of one-track recordings and having vocals with perfect pitch, but there are some who've still got it. The duo that makes up The Project, Michael Glen Bell and Duane W.H. Arnold, are an example of artists that truly do have skill intact; and with their latest release, Mystic Chapel, it is justly on display.

The album opens with the instrumentally brooding "Prelude." The track carries a thematic sound of an approaching storm with accompanying dueling acoustic guitars. Changing directions abruptly is the upbeat and hopeful "Come Let Us Worship." It's not overly complex as it's mainly a call to worship the Lord who saves us from sin. The worshipful theme is carried throughout the album but rarely with the up-tempo sound. More often than not, the tracks lean toward a mid-tempo and methodical tone. "Death is Destroyed" is a fantastic example of this as it doesn't have an overt climax, but is engaging the entire length of the track. "From On High" is another model of a simple worship song of thankfulness for the completed work of Christ as Bell sings, "Glory to thee, oh Lord, our life and our resurrection." While they may not be groundbreaking lyrics, no one is singing lines in this musical style anymore.

The album concludes in a two-fold manner, first with "Holy Father" and then "Postlude." The former song is essentially a sweet "amen," acknowledging the authority and graciousness of the Father. The latter is essentially a refrain of the first track, but this time with a more peaceful undertone--as if worship gives perspective in the midst of a storm. Whether that was the goal or not, I'm unsure, but as a critic and music-lover that's how I interpret it.

Overall, Mystic Chapel is a solid release; however, some listeners still may not feel the overtly retro vibes. Thankfully, that doesn't determine the substance. Fans of 70's artists like Paul Simon, Bread, Zager & Evans or the acoustic musings of George Harrison might find the band's sound gripping. There really aren't many, if any, contemporaries to compare the group to, which makes them a gem of a group (but they may not have as large of coverage as others). Nevertheless, Mystic Chapel is a testament to the musical fortitude of the band and their commitment to continue making excellent quality music.

- Review date: 4/6/16, written by Ryan Barbee of Jesusfreakhideout.com

. Buy It: iTunes 
. Buy It: AmazonMP3

  1. Prelude (Journey's End) (3:14)
  2. Come Let Us Worship (4:36)
  3. Joyous Light (4:44)
  4. Hypachoi (2:51)
  5. Death Is Destroyed (3:15)
  6. We Sing With Angels (3:58)
  7. From on High (3:53)
  8. Holy Father (4:23)
  9. Postlude (Journey's Start) (2:32)



  • Jesus Freak Hideout (Ryan Barbee): First off, well done gentlemen! What was the inspiration behind the album?
    Michael Glen Bell: Well, it was about three years ago, during the time we were working on our first album, Martyrs Prayers, that I came across a tape of two and a half songs I had recorded as demos in the studio in 1981. The two complete songs were ones that we had sung in our faith community back in the day that we had based on the Easter Vigil liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. We had been very influenced by the work of Robert Webber at Wheaton and regularly studied the Church Fathers in our fellowship. I passed the tapes along to Duane, who digitized them and thought we should do something with the songs.
    Duane W.H. Arnold: When Michael gave me the tapes, I set them up on my old Teac, hit the play button and was astounded how fresh the the music sounded to me all of these years later. I suggested to Michael that we could write a "song cycle" around the idea of a faith journey. We came up with the tag line, "What if we still believed?" You see, we've run into so many people from "back in the day" - old friends, or people with similar experiences who, while they still have a genuine faith, are simply "done" with the church - too many scandals, fund drives, intolerance, and all the rest. At the same time, we were working with a whole group of talented younger friends, musicians, designers, etc., who retain a deep faith but who have either no affiliation, or at best, a marginal affiliation with any faith community. So we decided to provide a "faith journey" of sorts for the "nones" and the "dones" and send it out as a sort of a "love letter".
    Michael: We also wanted it to be authentic. We used every piece of analog gear we could lay our hands on and then a load of Abbey Road plug-ins. Duane was on the lookout for vintage Vox AC 15s and 30s, grabbed up a Hofner bass, a stripped Epiphone Casino, and all the rest - just to get the sound of something real. We really wanted it to have the sound of "sonic memory".
  • JFH (Ryan): What is your favorite track from the album and why?
    Michael: For me that would be "Hypachoi." From Duane's beating chains on a cement floor, to Thom Daugherty's [formerly of The Elms] fantastic lead work, to the lyrics and acoustic guitar work - it all combines to bring the Resurrection to light as a truly cosmic event that reordered all of history. I don't think the Resurrection was a mild, passive event, it was a tumult that ended with "death is crushed".
    Duane: It's hard to come up with a favorite, but if I were pressed I would have to say We Sing With Angels. I remember when we had the first mix of the song, I sent it off to our good friend, John Michael Talbot, for a listen. He texted me back almost immediately and said, "Don't change a thing!". The lyrics and melody, I think, draw you into the experience of Mary at the annunciation and Steve Potaczek's [formerly of 1000 Generations] keyboard work is really tasteful and "spare" in this song.
  • JFH (Ryan): I love the cover! It's simple yet refined. Who did your album artwork and what's the story behind it?
    Michael: Duane wrote the liner notes and used them as a guide in working with Owen Thomas [formerly of The Elms] who now heads up a great design consortium, Absorb, in addition to being Creative Director for The Band Perry. When Owen and Duane get together on these things, I tend to leave the room... it's kind of like they've both had three double expressos when they start talking design!
    Duane: Alright, guilty as charged. Actually, Owen and his team came up with most of the design work. My part was simply to emphasize the idea of a journey in a wilderness setting, weigh in on typography and match the narrative with the lyrics. As to the cover art, while Owen was directing the video for "Gentle On My Mind" for The Band Perry, he was on location in Death Valley and took some great photos. We scrolled through and found the one that we felt matched the emotional tenor of the album and fit the narrative.
  • JFH (Ryan): Now… the name of the band is "The Project" but this is looking like more than just A project. What are your future plans for the group? 
    Michael: Well, after Martyrs Prayers and Mystic Chapel, we've already been back in the studio working on a new set of songs for either an EP or an album. The last time Duane was in Paris he was at a small cafe and got into a conversation with an American woman whose most recent marriage was in a really bad place - she'd been married several times and this one was breaking up. Even with that, she kept talking about the various wedding dresses she had worn. Duane went back to his room and worked the rest of the day on lyrics for a new song, "Wedding Dress." I'm not sure that most people will see it as a "Christian" song, but it speaks to the reality of what a whole lot of people are facing these days - what they really want is love and commitment but they settle for something less, so long as it has the right "look". We think there is something to be gained by addressing topics like this, because it is where people actually live. So, it will be a different body of work, yet again.
  • JFH (Ryan): What would you say is the driving force behind your music right now? What keeps you guys making music? (You could give me the simple answer of, "The Holy Spirit of course!" But why do you think that is?)
    Duane: I think the driving force is that we think we still have something to say to the contemporary situation. Our first album, Martyrs Prayers, asked the question, "What would you die for?". It was our small attempt to speak musically about the issue of "cheap grace" as defined by one martyr in particular, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. On this album we decided to ask another question, "What if we still believed?". You see, we came to faith in a time when something authentic was happening. It wasn't programmed, it wasn't planned, but it was real. The theology was not deep or profound and there was much we needed to learn, but we believed, and that belief was translated into a movement that changed the Church, changed the style and substance of ministry, changed worship and changed music. In recent years we've seen much of that authenticity lost or, at the very least, diminished.
    Michael: I couldn't agree more. When worship becomes an "event", something is wrong. When really great Christian artists, many of whom are our friends, are ignored or sidelined, something is wrong. When someone like Bono complains about the lack of authenticity, honesty and originality in Contemporary Christian Music, something is wrong. When the playlists of ninety percent of Christian radio are controlled by two companies, something is wrong. I'm not saying that we can make it right, but we can at least raise the questions. I think that is a big part of what keeps us making music.
  • JFH (Ryan): Now let's end with something fun. If you both could go on 4 city tour with any band/artist from any time period… who would it be with and what 4 cities would you go to? Why?
    Michael: That's way too tough of a question! I can immediately think of The Beatles, Buffalo Springfield, Springsteen, Crosby, Stills and Nash or old friends that I've played with like Larry Norman or Phil Keaggy. If I had to choose one person, however, it would be Michael Hedges - he was transformative in his approach to playing an acoustic guitar. The four cities would have to be - San Salvador, El Salvador - The Spanish version of our video, Romero, was aired on every national TV station in the lead up to Oscar Romero's beatification. I'd love to sing his song at his tomb. New York City - where I spent a month at Union Theological Seminary and checked out live music in Greenwich Village every night I could. Amsterdam, The Netherlands - What can I say, I'm half Dutch. Santiago, Chili - Duane recently penned a moving set of lyrics that we have put to music honoring John Lennon and Victor Jara. (Jara was a poet, singer-songwriter and activist from Santiago murdered in 1973.) We've recorded a Spanish version to be released in Chili to honor his legacy.
    Duane: I agree with Michael, this is too difficult! I would name all the people Michael mentioned and would probably add more to the list. If I had to choose one person, however, it would be Jackson Browne who, quite simply, is one of the most remarkable songwriters of our time. To write These Days as a teenager and Standing in the Breach on his last album, with everything else in between is remarkable. My four cities would be - New York City - I lived there for a time and it is the capital of the world! Cleveland, Ohio - It is the home of rock and roll. Paris, France - My favorite city on the planet. Indianapolis, Indiana - My home... and I could give all my friends backstage passes!
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Above the Storm - Eternal Sun EP (2015)


Hailing from Santa Cruz, California are the five-pieced Above the Storm with their debut release and oh my Lord, I can't thank you enough for it's sweet arrival. Adorned in the brutality of death metal while glimmering with glory of the Gospel, the EP carries a ray of hope that suits it's title of Eternal Sun and will no doubt pierce the common stylistic conceptions of the genre as well as the hearts of men; all within a mere 15 minutes. Given the band's fondness for Deafheaven and At the Gates, it comes as no surprise that AoS replicate the aesthetic beauty of the former and the violent style of the latter. Even with the obvious influences on display, these guys are not cookie-cutting the bands that preceded them but successfully melding their love for the vast subgenres contained within Metal to give us a unique musical experience to which I am wholly thankful for.

 

Immediately blasting in with all members, the EP begins in a frenzy as pull-offs and hammer-ons are executed in a 5/5 time signature while vocalist Justis Earle is introduced after one measure. After a jointed tremelo riff in a major key between lead and rhythm guitarists Egor Zimin and Eric Zwierzynski, the track shifts into a 4/4 rhythm for most of it's entirety. The track is quite stochastic, which gives us a good idea of just how well the band can play together amidst drastic changes in tempo and intensity. My favorite part about this track is the exhilerating breakdown that takes place halfway into the song. Justis trails of into a banshee-scream, while an overdub of him shouting "I'm left for dead!" is the first line of his short, spoken-word speech.

 

The title-track has this same feature, as it laments

"Instead of the simple joy of following you,

My soul is vexed by the teachings of my hand

As soon as they may be,

I have lost my way again."


Trials and tribulations, as well as our wandering faith, is a very real obstacle in the lives of believers. So to hear Justis sharing a moment of his weakness with us is incredibly encouraging. The track eventually moves into the 7-minute Underdogs that contrastingly edifies us with words of encouragement: 

"I will not settle for anything less than my full potential

I will not let you define my limitation

I have purpose, I have passion . . . "

 

The track and EP close off with a very melodic ending as many voices join to harmoniously bring Eternal Sun to a bright and emotionally-filled stop. Overall, I was completely satisfied with this release. I knew this band had great potential since the SkyBurnsBlack label released their first single back in February but I was pleased to see it exceeded my expectations in production and technique for such a fresh group. Though new, I have very little room to be wary that all the support from both fans and peers this band is already receiving won't lead to a cultivation of deliciously pleasing releases to come, especially if the eternal Son himself is the one from whom they're receiving their light.

 

https://www.facebook.com/AboveTheStorm/timeline?ref=page_internal

https://soundcloud.com/abovethestorm/eternal-sun

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The Christ Tree: An Homage to Commemorate the Beloved Album's 40th Anniversary

 

An album that has constantly blurred the lines between appreciation and idolatry is the clearest summarization of what The Trees Community's The Christ Tree (1975) has meant to me since my discovery of it over two years ago. Such a personally assigned definition should then give you no surprise that following it's 40th birthday, I'm here praising it's musical merits. Jesus famously said that Heaven and Earth shall pass away but that his words would endure forever. Maybe if I'm lucky, Jesus will allow any audio containing traces and utterances of his written word to slither through the final judgement. OK I'm obviously kidding; we all know the answer is an emphatic yes! So let's delve into this wonderfully bizarre and spiritually edifying album; let's dissect the intricate details and the huddled living-room orchestra behind them; and above all, let's praise the Lord in doing so (for information concerning the band's biography, visit thetreescommunity.com).

 

The album liner notes state that much of this album was done in one take and was made with the use of over 15 instruments with only three overdubs taken post-production. This knowledge makes it all the more impressive when the professionally executed and long-winded Psalm 42 serves as the introduction. Standing at over 12 minutes long, the behemoth begins with sitars and guitars, bending at a moment's notice as the young men and women of the group delicately sing the entirety of the psalm with grand performances and dynamics shifting throughout it's duration. These dynamics include polar mood shifts, entire stops, a crescendo of haunting proportions leading back into the chorus, gentle tranquility, and changing time signatures. The song fades on an eerie drone of vocals and into the strangely childhood-reminiscent The Parable of the Mustard Seed. Playful and instrumental at heart, it gives way to a rhythmically enticing track that takes multiple detours into cacophony only to wander back into the adventurous main theme from whence it came from. From there, the group gather their child-sized sandals and shout a joyous, almost tribal chant praising the miracles of Jesus and his parables. 

"A miracle is the fig tree! Once sour now sweet as can be!"

"An olive once was bitter! But now it's oil is a healer!"

"The Lily is a pretty thing to view! But the apple has much more to do!"

"To see and to smell is delightfulness; But to taste and be nourished is the final test!"

"The Pomegranate! The Pomegranate! The Pomegranate!"

It almost reads like some strange excerpt from Alice in Wonderland. Once again the bible reveals itself to be a melting pot of inspiration for the eccentric.

 

The third track in this album is the gorgeous Psalm 45. Modeled and sung after the biblical chapter, it is filled with an array of culturally significant instruments (flutes, bagpipes, and sitars again, among others) which I think serves a dual purpose when coupled with the lyrics that God is Lord of all despite cultural differences. More cohesive than the psalm preceding it, the track serves as the last real ambitious meditation before the album gives way into the rich stream of short songs that follow through until the album's end. Invocation recites the famous "O, Holy Child of Bethlehem" in the form of a lullaby before the noisy wake up call of Village Orchestra comes a-knockin'. I love that this track in particular manages to bring me the imagery of a carnival with its busy production. 

Jesus He Knows is an a-cappella praise song, proclaiming the comforting truth that Jesus "knows how an oak tree feels in the evening on the tarnished gold grass of a plain", that he knows "just the right kind of song to keep a ship afloat in it's plight" and that he knows "the heart-break of Mexico". Lyrically fascinating and with vocal executions that could rival the Beach Boys, this track is a sure highlight of the band's excellent teamwork as musicians. The precious, acoustic-guitar driven I Will Not Leave You Comfortless carries the same theme that Jesus He Knows held, this time from the perspective of the Creator himself. Following this melodious bit, the Trees ensue on what is indisputably the strangest track on this album in Chant for Pentecost. Take the confusion that must have engulfed the city of Pentecost on the day the gift of tongues was given to the followers of Christ in the form of a song and you have Chant for Pentecost. It holds a special place in my heart due to it's carefree nature that masks what is obviously a very well-practiced and earnest prayer.

All of these tracks work excellently to make the closing track, Psalm 46, the heart-wrenching ending it is. It gracefully and humbly introduces itself with a quiet, buzzing hum of what sounds to be an organ which brings to mind the work of Phil Elverum in Mount Eerie's Sauna (2015) or Sufjan Steven's Michigan (2003). Tremelo picking of multiple stringed instruments gather together with the Trees Community so tenderly singing the final stanza of the psalm:

"The Lord of Hosts with us; Our Citadel, the God of Jacob"

I've many a times been brought to tears by this sole verse. It so boldly proclaims the truth that God is a fortress to be trusted; a person to whom we can beckon to and reside with. All this without so much as lifting their voices from whispers.

 

Surely enough, the inevitable end comes and I'm left remembering that the Trees Community only released one album during their stay as a band in this lifetime, yet I'm all the more thankful for this. The fact that they managed to record any material at all and have it survive this long is miracle in and of itself. In my opinion, what the Trees achieved in terms of originality and extravagant beauty all within a forty-minute ride is well worth documenting and praising even 40 years later. They may never have achieved the adoration of the world since 1975, but as I remember correctly, it isn't the world's adoration that will endure the erosion of time.

 

One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek:

That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,

To behold the beauty of the LORD

And to meditate in His temple.

Psalms 27:4

 

Reviewed by Bersain

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Steven Welp - City of Light, Vol. One (2015)

 

Most musically akin to the late experimental artist John Cage, the new-age electronic persuasions of Oneohtrix Point Never, and the freak-folk nature of Danielson, out of Richardson, Texas comes the Jesus-loving, poem-spewing, and ambitious singer-songwriter Steven Welp. In his sixties, Steven does well to challenge the average listener, let alone the Christian listener, with songs that vary greatly in lyrical content and genre. In a span of four years starting with the Satan Smackdown EP (2011) we observe the artist experimenting with simple acoustic guitar-based songs, free verse poems that range from auto-biographical to bible-recitings, electronic compositions, and lengthy mantras on loop. The newly released City of Light, Vol. One is a short, two-track album that manages to demonstrate these four qualities quite well. Because of this I feel that any newly interested listener can have a reliable taste of how delightful Steven's music can be.

The first of the two tracks, I'll Fly, opens up with an electronic drum loop that is followed shortly with a melodious drone, all of which pleasingly reminded me of Sufjan Steven's Too Much from the album Age of Adz (2010). What commenses however, is entirely and uniquely Welp. Steven's first sentence is an unashamed, personal, and spoken praise to the Almighty:

"Sometimes God's light is so bright in my eye, I say

'Take me home with you, Take me home, I want to fly!'

The desire to be with the Lord amidst a fallen world is indeed a strong one. It is one so stubborn and diligent that it drove and continues to drive many Christians to risk their lives to solely preach the Gospel to unsaved nations in the hopes that even one person will believe on the good news. This is what makes Steven's track just so fascinating; there comes a time when sung words just cannot describe your heart's desires, when the only means of getting that across can only be accomplished with the verbal utterances of the tongue in versed poetry. Among the many things that Steven discusses in the song is the Book of Enoch, scoffers and naysayers, emotional breakdowns, prophetic visions, Paul's Epistles, and the John the Apostle's visions from the Book of Revelation. It's Steven's sermon to the world about the freedom of a life in Christ and while instrumentally it's not dynamic, the track's emotional delivery in earnestness is compellingly attractive.

 

Peace! Love! Joy! is contrastingly formulaic yet no less entertaining. Centered around two constantly alternating key-chords on an acoustic guitar, Steven delivers mouthfuls of sung lyrics, at times to the point where he could possibly be running out of breath from the little breaks he takes to sing in an urgent fashion. He insists those listening to act on God's word, to help the poor, spread the gospel, stop the devil's evil deeds, and ultimately fulfill God's commandment to love others as our neighbors. I can't help but imagine what a roaring sing along it would be were a whole congregation to have Steven as the worship leader. Everyone would be entirely out of breath from joyous laughter and more words stuffed into the first verse than there is stuffing inside the Thanksgiving turkey! The album soon ends in the positive light it started with just seven minutes ago and we're two songs more knowledgeable in experience.

 

I find Mr. Welp's music to be an enthralling take on the medium of music. Unwilling to be restrained by pigeonholes and genres, his perspective on musical freedom accurately reflects a man who's spiritual freedom in Christ is no less bound by the limitations of this world. I recently took the time to travel to Dallas and interview the man myself, which proved to be quite life-enriching in fellowship. I hope to post what we discussed that afternoon and the events leading up to it soon, but until then;

Peace! Love! Joy!

 

(City of Light as well as Steven's other music can be heard and downloaded for free at http://noisetrade.com/stevenwelp)

 

Reviewed by Bersain

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Corner Gospel Explosion - Corner Gospel Explosion EP (2015)

 

"Face to face with myself I realize I'm terrified of myself"

 

How beautiful is God-glorifying music when we are honest with our limitations! This is one of the many insightful lyrics that the Oregon-based indie rock band Corner Gospel Explosion utters during their satisfying self-titled EP.

Made up of drummer and surpisingly enough vocalist Bradley David Parsons, bassist Tyler Parsons, guitarist Andrew Harris and also on guitar/synth Nick Graham, this EP showcases a group of men that are not only musically gifted but also philosophically engaging on topics so crucial to the thinking man. Subjects such as the uncertainty of the future, the passing of time, mortality, nostalgia, monotony, and the afterlife are all colorful things on their own and that's not even taking into account the nice variety that CGE makes use of in terms of instrumentation and direction. The pace is very balanced; at times we'll have a somber melody and the next a shoegaze-driven up-tempo track with the appropriate mood behind it. Bradley's hands rest solely on the production and the result is great, to say the least. 

At this moment in time, all I can say with CGE's debut release is that we're catching a rare glimpse into a band that has it's craft down to the dot. It's no easy feat managing to create music as a band, let alone great music and having it resonate with the artist's intents. Whether they'll carry on their talented pursuits in music is for God to know and for us to wait patiently. For now, I wish you the best of luck boys. The world can always use more terrifyingly great people.

 

Reviewed by Bersain

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Octagrape - Major Mayor Maxion Marble (2015)

Octacgrape Major Mayor

 

The year is 2015 and Soul Junk has not released any material since 2012. Had the beloved Gospel-shouting, indie rocker/experimental hip-hop artist behind the moniker (A.K.A. Glen Galloway, A.K.A. Glen Galaxy, A.K.A. all around amazing musician) called it quits then and there, I might have as well just shaved my head and begun a week long mourning period in ashes and sackcloth. Yet I think my afternoon will be spent pouring oil over my head and slaughtering the fattest calf in the room since what might be a resting period for Soul Junk fortunately turned out to be a gateway for Glen's newest musical incarnation. Ladies and Gentle Christians; I am proud to share with you the noise rock tinged, Octagrape.

 

Octagrape's musical efforts stretch back to at least 2014 with their release of the 4-track EP Emotional Oil and the 41-minute full length Red UFO and they undoubtedly are here to stay since already they're out with new material. This time in the form of a highly exhilerating half-an-hour cover EP titled Major Mayor Maxion MarbleIf Octagrape's lifespan rests only on the slumber of Soul Junk then by all means feel free to sleep until the resurrection. What Glen's newest project is accomplishing is nothing short of praise-worthy in artistry. For the record, I haven't heard any of the original tracks Octagrape covers in this album. I do think that in this case it'll work in my favor since I won't have nearly as much bias without being able to compare the two.

 

The first track is apparently a Major Stars' cover titled Syntoptikon and it wastes no time introducing the listener to the loud world that Glen and his band have concocted. Feedback blares, panning all over the room before it settles on a fiery riff that melts away in the bloody improvisation which follows for fifteen minutes before making the pilgrimage back to familiarity. Not a word is spoken and never once is the energy lost.  They utilize every minute with hard-hitting skins, a dizzying amount of pedal effects, and leave Glen's shouting in the following track Ghost Punch as a fine reward for an emotionally inducing noise-fest (which by the way is no less noisy despite it being much shorter in length). Verfremdungseffekt is a basic jam session with finer details. A glitchy, high pitched riff frequently cuts in to shake the album's alien world with loops unearthing tunes that creep and fade away without warning. The EP finishes with the slow-paced and reverb heavy Melted Moon. Glen is finally discernable in singing and the production brilliantly manages to capture the hauntingly loud riffs to appropriately accommodate a sense of loss and anguish being displayed. It's a beautiful ending to a raucous album.

 

So what can we conclude after listening to Major Mayor? I think it's safe to say that it's Galloway's rawest musical output since Soul Junk's debut 1950 (1994). Even better is that the production brings to life some aggressively real emotion that debatably hindered 1950 and it's successors from becoming the critically successful albums I feel they could have become (I'm still insisting it's a classic regardless of what Rateyourmusic contends). Through walls of noise, Octagrape manages to hold their own sound for what is surprisingly not original material. I feel Glen put it best when he said;

 

"Cover songs are double-edged.  You don’t have to write them, but you do have to own them.  All four of these tunes have some severely alien logic intrinsic to them. They’re slathered so deep in that…they initially come off as improv, but we maybe figured out otherwise in midstream.  Learning these made us unlearn a lot of what we already knew to do, in terms of structure and performance, recording and mix.  The same rules did not apply.

So here we have something that doesn’t have a lot in common with much of anything we’ve recorded so far as a band, was an epically large stretch, and yet in some ways was like falling off a giant log.  Tribute, homage, thrill-bent annihilation.  A 4-song cover EP."

Reviewed by Bersain

 

 

 

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Half-Handed Cloud - Flying Scroll Flight Control (2014)

Half-Handed Cloud - flying scroll flight control (2014)

Long-time Asthmatic Kitty label artist Half-Handed Cloud is the moniker by which John Ringhoffer beautifully weaves complex and artistic pop melodies behind. Enveloped in straight-forward religious imagery and a cluster of instrumental variety, what John accomplishes is nothing short of spell-binding, and all this with legendary indie artist Sufjan Stevens to lend his ear in mixing and production on what could easily be 2014's strongest chamber pop album.

Flying Scroll Flight Control is without a doubt John's greatest musical achievement. Even from his lo-fi beginnings on albums like Learning About Your Scale (2001), this young artist was obviously flowing with talent, making use of unconventional items like squeek toys to convey infancy and gorgeous arrangements of stringed instruments. However, it was only until 13 years later that we were allowed to hear what a fully fleshed out experience by this promising artist would sound like.  This isn't to say John didn't fully bring to life any of his previous albums, they were all capable of allowing you to see a unique world by which both instruments and lyrics worked together to create but what IS different about Flying Scroll Flight Control is the sheer strength in which we hear it. Every instrument and melody is unveiled, leaving the listener to be fully aware of their number and clever arrangement.

Here we see John toying with not just the notion of a more colorful pallette of instruments as a composer, but even more difficult to refreshingly convey, a bold and out-spoken proclaimer of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Whereas in times past the artist's music would be littered with stories, here we see him unashamedly paraphrasing entire chapters of the new testament. Just about each track is modeled after a Pauline verse but it manages to do so without sacrificing the author's intent as well as managing to sound completely genuine in the process. I think this earns the album a respectable spot to be labeld as a worship album because it does nothing but glorify the Lord in lyrics that the Spirit himself breathed upon the New Testament authors.

The album itself is a kaleidoscope of wonders. From the hard and fast paced intro to the calmingly moving "He's Already On Everyone's Side", every track is uniquely it's own yet the album falls apart with any of them missing. Before the album's short run ends we're given field recordings of Belgium, humming organs, tape manipulation, fuzzed-out distortion and legions of voices to lead entry into a wondrous musical experience that one only hopes comes around in their life time. I can only hope John's creativity doesn't end with this album, even if it might prove to be his magnum opus.

Reviewed by Bersain

Flying Scroll Flight Control (album cover)

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