Wednesday, November 4, 2009
David Crowder Band: Church Music
To be honest, I had been introduced to the David Crowder Band only though some of their Passion Ministry works, I might have written them off. I like the idea of introducing old music to new audiences, even using new sounds, but when the new sounds are less beautiful than the old, or simply revved up for rev’s sake, I think the lyrics and the music lose.
But then a friend loaned me a copy of “A Collision” followed by “B Collision” – a maverick work if ever there was one. “A Collision” struck me for its rambunctious variation in both music and emotion. Then I listened to “B Collision”, an experimental follow-up, recapitulating parts of “A” though a Deliverance filter. At the time, I didn’t know that “B Collision” was atypical, even for Crowder, but it --with its blend of banjo, mandolin and smashing synthesizer – set the hook. Here was a guy with a wacked out sense of humor, willing to experiment and blend totally incongruous styles. Here was music firmly anchored somewhere between the 18th and 23rd centuries. The music of A and B collision, eclipsed so much what I call modern worship music that I sat up to take another listen. I was brought face to face with a “post-modern” worship maestro, putting out music that made me question my bias against all modern worship music.
Since that time I have acquired a couple of other David Crowder releases (Sunsets and Sushi, and Remedy). And I must say, nothing has of yet, caught my ear like “B collision” -- but then, there are those times when bluegrass doesn’t bring out my dancing shoes like full orbed electric honeycomb, or the heart catching lyrics “He makes everything glorious.”
---- Now back to the disk at hand. (And I apologize for some repetition, as I joined two pieces of writing.)
The title Church Music, comes with something of a smile; This is probably not the music most churches feature on Sunday Morning -- unless they come with a name which includes the word Rock, Creek, or Tree. The title is, like all things Crowder, idiosyncratic, and suggest that the worship offered by those who bend their knee and before the living Christ (the head of the church) are engaged in the stuff Church Music. Even when it calls for a disco ball.
Not of course, that all the saints will like this brew. Bill Gothard would condemn it; Bach might lift a brow, while a good many saints across the globe might look for the end of the age, or ask to turn the volume down.
Truth is, I might be among them. As a rule I like my music stripped down, and organic. I find much of modern worship music disagreeable, ….(It is) Sometimes un-singable, sometimes too mindlessly-emotive, often too abstract and poorly written. (By abstract, I mean using words like “holy” or “awesome” but without ever giving us concrete examples of what those words mean.) Beyond that, much of modern praise music is simply loud, poundy and repetitive, dishing melodic lines you readily forget.
So here comes David Crowder band, which is at once extra loud and extra poundy—often highly repetitive. And they repeat themselves. Their lyrics fit the bill, but they are often extra simple -- One line of verse for every minute of song. To top it off, DCB lyrics are sometimes abstract and highly emotive, and he (or they) sings songs in way that don’t invite my joining in. But I still really like this guy and his band.
First, these guys are a first rate quirks. Then, even with some checks in my minus-column, David and band present their songs with such fervor and conviction -- even desperation, that what might be a minus becomes a plus. This is hard to make sense of. -- I don’t like poundy music if it’s just kind of poundy in a way that muddies the melodic line. (as in some of the tunes on Remedy). But turn that same pound into a pleading hemorrhage, a bell-chorus arsenal, or the Rite of Spring (by Stravinsky) and what once was just in the way, becomes part of the art form. Make no mistake, When David Crowder Band offers a song of praise to God or builds a multi-hued wall of weaving sound there is a sense that they -- and we -- are standing with arms raised before the throne, with the thunder of God echoing though the rainbows.
Now if you really are unfamiliar with DCB, you can find all kinds of their music on You-Tube. Here is a good start.
For the familiar, If you like Sushi or Remedy, think of the same elecronica with a bit more volume, and different words. Some folks call Remedy a “pop” sound, while Church Music is byond, both crunchier and dissonant. Church Songs is categorically darker in hue that earlier works. Gothic is an overused word, but when I spin this disk, I “see” the stuff of ravens and towers and light punching through a Middle Earth forest.
In a promo for the disk, DCB show that they have added a second drummer named Steve to their arsenal, but this one a true drumming robot. (Speaking of drum machine.) Think of each drum beat as a drummer, with a drummer of his own. Or something like that.
By contrast to the catalogue onr “A or B” Collision, Church Music is thematically constrained. (Actually, by contrast, most everything is.) But listen for the variation inside the sound wall. Beyond that, Church Music seems to build around a theme, echoed in repeatedly in a single track: God is Near. Past albums have highlighted the Kingly authority, the holiness, or the beauty of God; This one celebrates his ever present presence.
I just listened again. Nix the word constrained in the above sentence.
17 songs or One? (there are no spaces between the tracks)
Track One: “Hail Gladdening Light” How utterly appropriate. Given the title “Church Music” why not start with a hymn almost as old as the church itself. Wikipedia sheds some light on the ancient lyric. “Phos Hilaron (Φῶς Ἱλαρόν) is an ancient Christian hymn originally written in New Testament Greek. Often referred to by its Latin title Lumen Hilare it has been translated into English as 'Hail Gladdening Light' or 'O Gladsome/Joyous Light'. It is the earliest known Christian hymn recorded outside of the Bible that is still being used today. The hymn is featured in the vespers of the Byzantine liturgy used by the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic traditions, as well as being included in some modern Anglican and Lutheran liturgies.”
Tracks 3/5/7/8 Truth is, these tracks sound a bit alike -- pulsing, deep textured and urgent. Like David the Psalmist dancing in his underwear. Invites mind, body, and imagination to join in full throttled worship of the King. The King who is near.
Brilliant bright, our salvation
Took the fall to hold us up
All the weight of our condition
Lifted away from us
We can feel the breath of the angels
See the walls bend and shake
The sky's in a tremble
Let the dead wake
To sing the songs of the heavens
See the dawn start to break
The bond starts to loosen
Feel the earth shake
Darkest night, brought redemption
Innocence' divine embrace
In the light of all creation
Heaven and earth start to twist
And the nearness of there
Feels more near
(from the track 3, the Nearness)
Track 9: (All around Me) My daughter pointed out that this is a cover of a song by some group called “Fly Leaf”. “They stole that song!” she cried. (I wouldn’t have known, but the brooding classical piano and raspy-rhapsodic presentation of this song (which I understand is much different than the original) is itself different than many of the other tunes on this disk. If your download one song, this is it. Astonishingly beautiful!
Track 16. (God Almighty, None Compares) Okay forget everything I’ve ever said about liking restrained acoustic. Not that I still don’t, but add to that category speaker melting apocalyptic praise, with a touch of 80s hair band, Crowder prog, speed violins (?) and some lunatic guitars. Brings to mind an Anthem by Kemper Crabb and the band Archangel that no one who will read this review has ever heard. It sounds kind of frightening and underworld in a good way, or like the book of Revelation in which even those thing under the earth are joined in one torrential praise.
Title Track, Church Music.
Ps, I had written one concluding paragraph, but have scrapped it as my sense of this disk keeps growing. ( I compared this disk to eating 12 Reeces Cups.) and while it clearly is an audio rush, the more I listen the more the content fills me with glorious thoughts. I am not sure I want to re-write the review, so here is a link from a guy who was pretty much blown away by Church Music -- even as I think this is the kind of disk I will play twice a year - LOUD.