Explosions In the Sky – The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place: Music Review

Bio

Known for being a genre figurehead and quintessential listen for fans, Explosions In the Sky has spent the last 16 years crafting a brand of instrumental post rock that has enraptured listeners. With emotional live performances, dynamic songwriting, and a near perfected formula, this band has proved their staying power and solidified a niche base of loyal fans.

Background

I first became familiar with this band when I saw Friday Night Lights in the 8th grade with my dad. They wrote the entire soundtrack to that film, using a combination of demos for songs that are currently on records and originals written for the movie. After hearing the demo version of Your Hand In Mine at the end of the movie before credits roll, I was dying to figure out who played this music. Rather than waiting for the credits to show who played it like I should have, I slaved looking through every nook and cranny of iTunes for almost a year.

The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place album cover.
The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place album cover.

As a last ditch effort, I browsed Amazon for the soundtrack and was referred to Explosions when I was a freshman in high school. Afterwards, I began to explore their discography with albums like How Strange, Innocence and The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place. Through the last eight years, I have fallen in and out of certain bands, but have always managed to return to Explosions as I further listened to them. I will go into this further, but for me, it’s the lasting effect that this band has had since I was a freshman in high school that has caused me to have a love affair with this music.

Track Reviews

Normally, I pick a few songs out of an album and give a sampler in these reviews. This album is only five songs long, but average out to about 8 and a half minutes a piece. Though they are separate tracks on paper, they are anything but on record. For the purposes of length, I will pick my two favorites from this record.

The Only Moment We Were Alone is the second song on this album and was the first track on Explosions set list when I saw them live in 2011. The first 4 minutes build on this graceful, soaring melody that loops and builds on the other guitar player, bass, and drums build up until it suddenly slows at 7 minutes. A few seconds of brief silence is truly the calm before the storm when the song blasts into this epic catharsis at the 8 and a half minute mark. For the rest of this song you absorb this maelstrom of distortion, tenacity, and that same melody holding on.

I would be so tempted to pick Your hand In Mine, but I will instead discuss Six Days At the Bottom Of the Ocean, because of its polarizing feel. I could go on for hours about how the first 4 and a half minutes make me want to burst into tears from the melancholy lead and dynamically layered instrumentation. All of a sudden, the song takes a turn through a few second period of psychedelic reverb. The song then turns into this slow moving part totally unrelated to the first act of this track. It builds up, but never goes quite to the caliber of The Only Moment… it keeps you guessing. With a crazy snare part to go along with it, the song wraps up like you’ve gone through a journey.

Instrumentation/Songwriting

As you can gather from the previous section, these songs are much more classically composed; in movements and flow from one ending to the beginning of another. Historically, post rock was born as a counter to hard rock and heavy metal’s lack of emotion in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

Explosions In the Sky. Photo Credit: Apesontape.com
Explosions In the Sky. Photo Credit: Apesontape.com

With pioneering bands drawing influence from as early as psychedelic acts like The Velvet Underground, the progressive philosophy of underground rock propelled groups like Tortoise to become Godfathers of American post rock. The writing style is underpinned by relying on the instrumentation to provide an all-inclusive experience for the listener. Rather than siphoning the emotional charge between the vocals, lyrics, and instrumentation, the instruments provide one central source for all cathartic feels in their music. What this provides is a deeper and intricate experience throughout the course of a record. What I believe this also does is it allows the listener to openly interpret the art form. It’s been commonly said by many artists that lyrical content is open to interpretation. While that may be true, it never allows the listener to fully embrace the imagery and their own translation. By having no lyricism, it’s less distracting and paints more vivid pictures for the listener. I think that’s what makes this music so emotionally potent. Through all of the songs on this record, there is hardly a dull moment. I don’t think that even the longer periods of transition count as dull, especially when they build up to these ultimate crescendos.

Everything is purposeful. When you watch live shows of this band, they flow with the music and let themselves be one with it. They allow themselves to be immersed in their art. By doing so, live and on record, you get to hear something that is genuine and organic. Interestingly, this album is described by the band as their, “best attempt at love songs.” The fact that you even have an idea of what was going through the band members’ minds when they wrote this record makes it feel more personal. I remember watching Friday Night Lights and remembering how moody the film felt with this kind of music back dropped behind very emotional scenes. The film would have otherwise had an unfitting tone. Yet, I was able to feel so differently when I listened to those tracks in another situation. I think it speaks volumes about the versatility of these songs and how there is never one mood or time or place for it. Overall, I think this is some of the most keen songwriting in rock music that tugs at heartstrings.

Concert poster for Explosions in the Sky in Minneapolis. I was at that concert and an a proud owner of these posters. Photo credit: dkngstudios.com
Concert poster for Explosions in the Sky in Minneapolis. I was at that concert and an a proud owner of these posters. Photo credit: dkngstudios.com

Production

When looking at most modern post rock production, atmosphere is key. Instrumentation tends to be more diverse throughout the scene. In Europe, bands like Mogwai and Sigur Ros are more inclusive of instruments that fall into a folk and ambient category. Naturally, those differences are reflected in the production of the album, but in the case of Explosions, it’s guitars, bass, and drums. Nothing too unfamiliar. The way this is packaged puts ambiance on a silver platter for us to dig into. I think the glimmering and hollowed guitar tone has trademarked Explosions for their entire career. Especially when compared to other records, the nimble passages are perfect for this kind of tone. The prominent bass lines provide a well-rounded sound in the parts where the music explodes (no pun intended), though there are more parts in this album where it’s absent. It’s absent to showcase the delicate guitar parts. The drums follow more of a kettledrum-like cadence with a snare and kick drum that protrude through. This makes for a good balance between the frenetic pace and the chill passages.

Conclusion

I don’t give perfect scores to many albums. I have to like it that much. My reviews are as objective as possible, though it reflects my taste. With that said, I find this record to be flawless. It’s beautiful, it moves, and has been in the forefront of my library. It’s wonderfully nostalgic, always puts a smile on my face and is a record I can get lost in.

Score: perfect. 100/100

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Mat Kearney – Just Kids: Music Review

Bio

Oregonian native singer-songwriter, Mat Kearney has carved a unique pop niche in the last decade, releasing material that is well composed, diverse, and heartfelt. With a long extended play of EP’s and five full length albums, Kearney has had a lot of content to show for his creativity.

Background

I can thank my sister for Mat Kearney. She had a copy of Nothing Left to Lose, which I of course took (#sorrynotsorrysis) and the album became a compilation of summer camp anthems. I loved the feel of Nothing Left to Lose when I first heard it. It’s an easy listen with good vocal range, compositions, and solid lyrics. But, summer camps ended and I began to explore other music, so Mat Kearney fell off my radar for a number of years. It wasn’t until last year when my Bible Study co-leader played his single, Ships In the Night. I had one of those, “Why did I ever let this get away from me!” reactions. This song is one of Kearney’s superlative tracks that all fans revere. Hearing this song repeatedly got me to rediscover Kearney’s discography, which included City of Black and White and the rest of Young Love. Both of those albums were and still are very enjoyable for me. They’re loaded with sing-along caliber pop anthems armed with earworm hooks and substance. Now that I’ve began to enjoy Mat Kearney, I heard he was releasing a new album during last semester and glued my ears to Spotify. Now, here I am, PUMPED to write about this new record, Just Kids!

Track Reviews

I remember when I was in middle school and mainstream hip-hop moguls like Jay-Z reigned over the radio waves in the early 2000’s. Heartbreak Dreamer begins this album with an old school feel that brings me back to those tunes. It has this cinematic feel with a droned out child-like chant behind a piano. Kearney’s vocals are still spot-on and natural, but he also fades in and out of rapping and singing, which occurs consistently throughout these tracks. The end of the song samples a live, spoken word piece from a friend of his. The poem plays against the same beat for the rest of this track. For anyone who might not understand the background of the album’s lyrical content, the spoken word passage might feel abstract. I liked the song as a whole, but the beat did feel exhausting on the ears after nearly six minutes.

Just Kids album cover Photo credit: Target.com
Just Kids album cover Photo credit: Target.com

The title track is the second single released last December and is probably one of the more somber songs on this release. Constructed by a simple snap clap beat with another piano line to drive the melody, the song dives into a nostalgic self-narrative about Kearney’s upbringing as a youth conflicted between God and self. Heartbeat was the first song Kearney dropped to promote Just Kids. This is a song where he hangs on throwback sonic influences from late 80’s and early 90’s grooves. Heartbeat is a sunny day bubble gum track with an infectious hook and is perhaps the liveliest song on this whole album. This is an entertaining track that will light up dance floors! One Black Sheep retains the folk element quintessential to Kearney’s sound that he molded in his last three albums, with a bouncing melodic chord progression to the guitar line. With lyrics telling the story of his musical career, it’s bound to have listeners singing along every time. The last song, Shasta, is a dim way to end the album with a reverb heavy guitar to accompany Kearney’s falsetto voice that nimbly takes you on a hearts and flowers journey of his old neighborhood. The later half of the song showcases a cool vocoder/auto-tune effect o Kearney’s vocals that add to the tone of the song itself. The end of Shasta glides into an atmospheric passage that reminds me of ambient outfits like Hammock and Lowercase Noises. This relaxing vibe gives Shasta personality and depth.

Instrumentation/Songwriting

Young Love was considered the first of many inspirational shifts for Kearney in writing styles. There was a fusion of dance, pop, singer songwriter, and even the first glimpses of a hip hop influence on songs like Ships In the Night, Count On Me, and Chasing the Light (which continues to be a favorite). A lot of those similar song structures transfer to this album, but have less of a sugary vibrancy to them. Through all of the sifting between genres, Mat Kearney has ultimately crafted a brand of singer songwriter that isn’t afraid to sail uncharted musical waters. Just Kids is no exception. Kearney even mentions in an interview that Ships In the Night was a teaser for what fans could expect on the new release. He wasn’t kidding. He expands on this idea of hip-hop style fusion with a vast majority of this new album. In fact, if you followed the singles that were being released on Spotify and Youtube, you could hear the evolution of tracks that further embraced that hip hop vibe until you got songs like Los Angeles, which have rapped verses and a sung chorus. Even when I heard the title track, I expected that the next logical step for Kearney would be to write songs like Los Angeles and Billion. I wasn’t sure how to brace myself for it, because beforehand, I was used to the Kearney who wrote Nothing Left To Lose. I was pleasantly surprised.

Photo credit: biggerthansound.com
Photo credit: biggerthansound.com

Even on the tracks where he raps a majority of the song, you can still feel the craftsmanship behind the delivery, production, and lyrical content. Even more impressive to me is that Kearney writes a majority of this record himself. Co writers were only present to tweak certain nitpicking bits. It’s not like he had total reliance on someone else to craft these songs. It shows that not only does he have an ear for catchy pop hooks, he knows how to experiment with them. This new found style surprisingly works for Kearney, especially when you consider that he got his start in music writing poetry. You ultimately hear this amalgam of influences on this record that feels like a natural culmination of elements from all other releases into this one album. Lyrics For all the experimentation that Kearney has undertaken musically, he’s never strayed too far from the path with lyrical content. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Throughout his records you hear stories of his upbringing, adolescent angst, broken relationships, love, and God. They’re all topics that provide substance and even a little bit of fun. On Just Kids, you hear more of a palate of lyrical themes but the focus seems to be on how Kearney grew up as a kid in Oregon. Songs like Just Kids, One Black Sheep, and Shasta help paint a vivid picture about the experiences that he had feeling odd, keeping to himself, and writing. Other songs follow suit of previous records that have an uplifting twist to more recycled themes in pop music, like Let It Rain. There’s just enough balance between the more serious and not serious themes to make this album feel accessible yet retain its authenticity.

Photo credit: examiner.com
Photo credit: examiner.com

Production On Young Love, Kearney focused much more on the clap beat war drum to drive most of the instrumentation – making a pop/folk/singer-songwriter smoothie. As I said earlier, this release is much more experimental and is actually pretty dynamic. Kearney makes good choices about what beats sound robust, appropriate, and still maintains his singer-songwriter roots. More than that, the obvious 90’s influence on songs like Heartbeat and the hip hop laden bounce to many other tracks give this record personality. Even in the title track, he talks about cranking Wu-Tang Clan and being inspired by listening to 90’s R&B. The homage to influences from his youth makes this listen feel that much more potent and personal. The more impressive part is that Kearney actually produced a lot of this record. Conclusion This is a fun release that you could always revisit, has a track for every occasion, has some depth to it, and feels organic. I have few things to complain about with this record. It’s Kearney’s most ambitious release and has this to add to an already successful and impressive discography. Score: 94/100

wall balls. part 2.

Everyone has that one exercise that one step above hard for them. In CrossFit terminology it’s called your “goat.” Mine? Wall balls. It’s a pretty simple movement.

It’s usually done in high reps and wears out everything in your body. The first workout I ever did had wall balls in it. I was on my back in a pool of sweat after 6 minutes. I hadn’t had that kind of a workout in years.

When I committed and returned for more workouts in the next month, the wall balls kept showing up. I was learning more power and Olympic barbell lifts and doing more calisthenics in the mean time. In the beginning, wall balls were an integral part of the programming our owner and coach designed. Over time when members became more comfortable with more compound movements, the workouts began to evolve. Wall balls were more intermittent, but I still didn’t like them that much. 20-pound medicine ball throws thrashed me. They still do.

Faith in Christ is a relationship. Relationships, whether they be romantic or not, require dedication, effort, and a willingness to endure the less-than-ideal times.

If you want to become a better person of faith, you need to be willing to adjust your lifestyle. You begin to develop new habits and/or drop old ones in that process, because you want to be taken seriously. More than that, you do it out of obedience to God. Though the routines are sometimes broken, not always followed through, and in need of refining, it’s the effort. You might not follow through on prayer or read your Bible on a day to day basis, but when we discipline ourselves to throw ourselves into those rituals, they begin to have much more intrinsic value. It transcends doing it out of routine and it becomes something you enjoy and want to do.

CrossFit caused my lifestyle to change. I eat better, sleep more, and have never been stronger or in better shape. I’ve also seen a lot of mental health benefits. Any health professional could tell you that even mild to moderate exercise has the ability to alleviate mild depression and anxiety. I feel much more of an even keel when I frequently exercise. I go when I’m tired, not at 100 percent, or frustrated. It’s gratifying when I want to pass out from a long workout – it feels like I did something with my day when the endorphins rage. It makes me want to go back. It also challenges me to go back and push heavier weight, have a straighter pull on barbell lifts, and get stronger. It’s a pervasive strive for improvement. When I began to think about the effort I have to put into my workouts, the more I thought about how I have to put in the same efforts into my faith. It’s a need for improvement to be more dedicated to prayer, in scripture, and know God better. I saw the value in seeing spirituality as a discipline. I find something new and exciting about diving into Biblical text and trying to improve my prayer life. It all begins to translate with how I take on life, the attitude I have towards people, how I approach God, and how He sees me. That feeling of emotional stability that exercise provides has given me a clearer set of eyes in my head and more equilibrium in my spiritual life. When I didn’t exercise all last semester I was more high strung than a chipmunk super saiyan charged with Red Bull. Christ was one of the last things on my mind when I was stressing so hard.

I will now pull the curtain back and state the obvious… life can suck.

Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, Lamentations, and even Romans are all laced with God breathed truth about the frailty of human consciousness and how we will have hard days.

The challenge is how we decide to tackle those tough days. I’m not suggesting that we ignore reality and live ebulliently as if life doesn’t happen. What I’m saying is that we need to be willing to take our licks, learn from them, be bummed out about it for a minute, and move on.

I have to approach wall balls the same way. The way through Christ does not mean life gets easier. There will be days where grades are sub par, cars break down, friendships are on the rocks, an things don’t go my way. There will still be wall balls in the workouts. The difference is that instead of skipping the workout because of the wall balls, I take it with confidence knowing that during, it may suck, but at the end, it will be worth it. It makes me a stronger more well rounded CrossFitter. It’s in the same way that accepting the hard days and walking through them will make us all more conditioned and stronger Christ followers.

My challenge for us all is to live out Philippians 3:12-14 and press on when life takes a left turn towards a cliff.

Approach life’s natural strife and off days with the conviction of Romans 5:3-4 and understand that perseverance holds the key.

Remember that Ecclesiastes 7:1-5 says there are days where we will sing the blues.

In all of it, hold close that in all of this there is an ultimate contentment and sustaining peace in Christ.

wall balls. part 1.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about hobbies and how I spend my time. Over the course of someone’s lifetime, the choice in activities will more than likely change because of maturity levels, friends your around, the city you move to, and life changing events.

When I transferred to Winona State, everything about my routine changed. I up rooted and planted myself under a new roof, with unfamiliar people, and a frenetic schedule (at first). When I changed my major and dropped eight credits worth of major courses, I needed a way to kill time. In addition to getting more involved in the ministries down here, I started exercising again.

When candidly interviewing Whitechapel’s drummer on tour, Phil DuBois of Revocation referenced a common joke on the Internet about CrossFit… “It’s like the opposite of fight club, and the first rule is that you never shut up [amended] about CrossFit.” Yeah. He’s pretty much right. I know, because I do CrossFit and it’s hard to abstain from talking about it.

I started when I was browsing our University Club page, looking to alleviate boredom. I found the CrossFit club, went to their gym in town, introduced myself, and was immediately hooked after one workout! I found (and still find) something so appealing about the intensity, fast pace, and integration of multiple methods of fitness. After a year and a half of participating, I began to see a lot of parallels that made it so much more meaningful to me.

One of the shots that CrossFit gets is that it exudes a cult-like vibe. I think this is often misconstrued for community – people bonding shoulder to shoulder. Through that comes something more than workout buddies. They’re people that you see most days of the week who push you to become better. There’s a prolific bond in that. It’s also a lifestyle.

If you look at the elites in this sport – Rich Froning, Mat Fraser, Jason Khalipa, Camille Leblanc-Bazinet etc. these are people who eat, breathe, sleep, and live CrossFit. They train multiple hours a day, own their own gyms, and are saturated in the life. It’s their center. Most of us don’t have that luxury, so we make exercise part of a multi-faceted routine. It’s part of my routine, because it keeps me healthy and sane. Exercise is one of those activities where I can leave frustrations at the door and escape for an hour and a half. I can clear my head and sweat it out before I face it.

The more consistently I began to go, I felt better in a holistic sense, but I also began to see this as a spiritual discipline. I began to see a lot of dots connected, parallels drawn, and similarities between being a Christian and CrossFitter. It’s led me to this ultimate conclusion…

Following Christ is like doing wall balls…

hannah.

Recently, our InterVarsity chapter at Winona State has been going through 1st Samuel, studying the rise and fall of the judges over Israel, the induction of a monarchy, and periods of transition for God’s people. I’ve never been someone who got much into the Old Testament outside of Ecclesiastes (which is actually my favorite book of the Bible). I guess it’s because I saw the New Testament as having the meat and potatoes for application. The Old Testament just felt like history textbook (even though that’s partly true). Weeks of study through characters like Hannah, Eli, Samuel, and Saul have given me a very different perspective on the practicality of the Old Testament. Learning through the tribulations and pitfalls of these figures has not only been encouraging, but the storyline feels like much more of a natural setup for what Christ does in Earth. Before 1st Samuel, Israel, the chosen nation of God has been through the grinder. After Moses and Aaron lead them out of captivity, the nation begins to dive off the deep end in indulgences and depravity. It’s a drawn out process, but are eventually given judges who act on behalf of God (the ultimate authority) to keep them in line. Unfortunately, the book of Judges is marked by rulers and earthly authority figures who have just as much of disregard for God’s purposes as the people do. It’s basically a vicious circle. Hannah. One of the wives of Elkanah, Hannah is unable to have children, because God “closed her womb.” Biblical historians account that Peninah (or as our staff leader called her – Penny) was more likely the second wife to Elkanah so that way sons could continue their lineage. Frustrated by the fact that Penny looks down on her for being barren, Hannah begs for God to give her a child. So much, that she offers him to God – to dedicate him in surrendered service. That means Hannah will only raise him for a short amount of time until he is handed over to Judge Eli. Hearing Hannah’s plea and responding to her devotion, God gives Hannah a son, Samuel (#foreshadowing). After Hannah weans Samuel she goes to the mountain and gives Samuel to Eli who raises him. Though Eli is one of the few good judges over Israel, he has two renegade sons who are disobedient priests who used prostitutes. I remember this being a passage that was harder for the guys to get into, because we don’t know anything about being barren. We couldn’t understand Hannah, her struggle, or a mother’s dilemma for that matter. With that said, the grand scheme of Hannah’s cry to God is something very relatable. She’s under pressure (cue Queen and David Bowie) to have sons who will carry on the family line. In that day, having descendants and continuing the house or tribe was a BIG DEAL. She felt like a failure and Penny throws it back in her face. The catch is how Hannah approaches God. She is willing to give up the son she always wanted and dedicate his life in service to God. She’ll never get to watch him grow up or really be part of the family. That’s everything for a mother to give up, especially when they have been so close to that child for the time in utero and postpartum. It speaks volumes about the risk that Hannah is willing to take. It’s a leap that many would call, “radical.” David Platt wrote a book of the same title. Though I have not read it, many of my friends have and have all said that it re frames this idea of radical through Christ. It’s an unwavering willingness to do something that is totally out there, but in obedience. People might call it odd, but it makes total sense to you. It’s all underpinned by following the call from God. Hannah had to be willing to alter her plan, throw expectations out the window, and go bold. Through that, God’s provision came through. In the end, this glorified Him, because Samuel ended up being, the voice of sanity for Israel. Now that I say that, this whole story makes me think of the in spider’s web known as God’s plan. It takes a lot of twists, turns, involves a lot of unexpected people and circumstances. I’m not saying that you have to give up your kid to follow God’s plan to be obedient. What I’m getting across is that this involves getting outside of your comfort zone. Being in prayer and listening to what God had to say through time and circumstance ultimately gave direction to me. I still have to do that. It’s a continuous ritual. At times it was/is scary…. As I’m sure it was for Hannah. It doesn’t really get easier to digest, but over time it begins to make more sense and you really feel the dedication.

Garvin Heights in October of 2014
Garvin Heights in October of 2014. It’s one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen. It represents of the greatest risks I ever took – transferring.

What can you learn from Hannah’s ultimate submission? What kind of steps can you take to understand God’s plan for you better? What’s outside of your comfort zone?

We Will Not Be Shaken – Bethel Music: Music Review

Bio:

Riding a newer contemporary wave of worship music and based out of Bethel Church in Redding, California, Bethel Music is a singer songwriter collective that began in the church’s worship ministry. It has since expanded into other artists who are based out of other churches and write individually. Since 2011, the artists in this collective have collaborated to put out a couple of studio albums and extensive live plays. More recently, a worship session overlooking a gorgeous scenic view of Lake Shasta inspired their new live album, We Will Not Be Shaken.

Background:

Most people who know me well understand that this is a genre of music that has never appealed to me. I don’t say that to depreciate the passion behind the musicians or their faith. One of my buddies here in Winona posted a quote on their Tumblr page that struck me when thinking about this… “Bad Christian art that reflects a lack of investment of time, commitment, craft, or skill, presents the illusion that the Christian life is not worthy or requiring of the same.” – Karen Swallow Prior

thechristianmanifesto.com
Bethel Music playing over Lake Shasta in 2014 Photo credit: thechristianmanifesto.com

Poignantly stated by Prior – a professor of English at Liberty University, this is what makes most “Christian” music unappealing to me. God gave us all unique gifts and aptitudes that we should exercise as a form of worship in accordance to Romans 12:7-17. It is something to be celebrated about our individuality in the likeness and image of God. I feel like when someone is given the gift of music, they should look for ways to further their craft. It would be the same way a teacher would want to strive for excellence in their respective field and not settle for mediocre. Unfortunately, I think this kind of music has become so industrialized and homogenized for the masses, the craft doesn’t really even matter. It’s marketable to an audience who will buy the music because of its label, regardless. For the purposes of this review, I will step off the soap box, because I want to give you some insight to an album that packages worship in an honest way. When I transferred to Winona and got involved in ministry, I saw the raging popularity with groups like Hillsong United, Rend Collective, and David Crowder Band. I immediately drew back thinking that these groups had absolutely nothing more to offer that I haven’t heard from countless other Christian artists. I began to warm up to them when I had such constant exposure and saw the passion it invoked through so many people. I still have my reservations, but after a year and a half of being down here, these groups began to rub off on me slowly. Rend Collective’s Campfire is now one of my favorite worship records to date. It’s spontaneous, organic, and wistfully created. A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon an upcoming live album from Bethel Music when a couple friends of mine screened it. Curiosity took over and now here I am writing about it.

Track Reviews:

Who Can Compare to You is the first song I listened to on this album. It showcases the voice of Matt Stinton who has an unbelievably dynamic vocal range. Starting off the song as a bass, he progresses to a nimble soprano by the end of the track. Packed with atmospheric string sections, delicate interludes, and sample pad percussion, this song actually feels authentic.

hellels.com
We Will Not Be Shaken album cover Photo credit: hellels.com

In Over My Head is probably the highlight of this album for me. Jenn Johnson’s Regina Spektor like whisper in her vocal style gives this song personality and adds to its ethereal depth. The way this song builds to this ultimate climax and unleashes a symphonic hurricane is not only epic, it’s moving. Home follows much of the same musical formula as many of the other tracks on this record, but Hunter Thompson’s higher vocal range and the way this song catchy chorus and pace makes it accessible. The title track begins this record softly with a memorable piano line over the acoustic guitar with Brian Johnson’s gravely voice. As I said above, the song structure follows a similar blueprint, but an ear worm chorus and well layered instrumentation makes this song a good preview for the rest of the album.

Instrumentation/ Songwriting:

While I may seem critical of modern contemporary worship, there is something to be said for the attention to emotions that it tries to focus on. Many times, the parts in these songs that hit their peaks is when they feel the most genuine and natural build up that is accented well with some out-of-this-world singing. On the topic of singing… there is not one artist in this collective that doesn’t have a standout set of pipes. I think all of them are a couple notches above others in the genre and they are able to transition well throughout the song’s they’re featured on. For example, Jenn Johnson has the ability to seamlessly adapt from a soft whisper to a boom. They all do. In addition, I actually like the feel of this record. For a live album, this actually has a lot of qualities of something that is unplugged – I think that’s why it feels very easy to listen to. Recently, lead singer of progressive metal band, Fallujah, Alex Hoffman said that the ultimate goal of their new record was to make people feel. The band wanted to write songs and develop a sound that manipulated emotions and took you on a journey throughout the record. That’s how We Will Not Be Shaken comes across. You really get the feels when you listen to this record in a way that most post rock outfits like Explosions In the Sky are Jedi Masters at.

Lyrics:

I have always found satisfaction in artists who put craftsmanship into lyricism that is profound and meaningful. I would say that this is a number one mission for groups in this genre, because the message is central to the craft… sometimes too central. Many times I feel like Christian music pours so much into the lyrical content that the craft itself qualitatively diminishes. In my experiences where that is the case, the lyrics may be heartfelt and potent when pen hits paper, but on record it feels forced. With that said, I believe that these artists truly pour themselves into what they write, lyrically. When listening to We Will Not Be Shaken, I hear a lot of the same themes you would expect to hear on a Hillsong or Rend Collective album, which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s sub par. The greatest thing about the lyrics on this record is that they are back dropped against some pretty stellar instrumentation. It automatically makes them sound much more convincing.

Promo for We Will Not Be Shaken photo credit: lourderthanmusic.com
Promo for We Will Not Be Shaken photo credit: lourderthanmusic.com

Production:

This will look a little different, because We Will Not Be Shaken is not something done in house. This is a live record. It’s an outdoor stage on the face of a bluff where the sound travels exponentially more than a recording studio. Treading the same lines of instrumental post rock, the production in this album focuses more on the ambiance and gentleness of the instrumentation. What it leaves is more room for this is vocals, which are the dominant element in the mix. When you hear those acoustic lines that are more stripped down, it’s emblazoned by this atmospheric aura that makes the sound more relaxed and easy on the ears. I really dig it. The way that many parts in the songs transition from these simple lines and climb into these bombastic climaxes is effective.

Conclusion:

Guys, I’m stumped. I found a worship album that is beautifully crafted, live, has a ton of replay value, and continues to grow on me. I don’t have that much to complain about with this record, but I’m still slowly transitioning into this new style of worship – I’m more stuck on my go to hymns that I grew up with. For what it is, this is pretty top notch. I’m excited to see where this group goes, where they’re called, and how each of these artists expand – in faith and music.

Score: 90/100