The landscape of great worship music continues to broaden and deepen. Styles continue to diverge, and I’m finding that lyrical depth is increasing on many fronts. This is all very encouraging. This post rounds up the first half, but check back later this week for the rest of the roundup.
Citizens & Saints, Join the Triumph
I am man-crushing all over this album. Citizens & Saints, along with Dustin Kensrue, are cutting their own path. What I love most about their writing, that I see so little of elsewhere, is their ability to write energetic, up-tempo songs exploding with great theology. In my opinion, the folks in this crew are the gold standard. The production is also very original, very poppy, very synthy, AND very out-of-the-ordinary. Just listen to the first track, “The Strife Is Over”: moog-ish portamento and a Who-like synth pulse. Very fresh. And then, on top of all of this, they continue to tighten their proclamation of a raw, unadulterated gospel. This is an album that proves you can be “triumphalistic”…in Jesus triumph.
Journey Collective, Nothing But the Blood (Single)
A stompy, soulful arrangement of the hymn BUT…with some great rewritten verses highlighting (especially racial) reconciliation, which I know is big on the heart of Journey Collective’s Russ Mohr. I admire him and Journey for this bold and beautiful recording. I’m of the persuasion that we need more Christian responses to injustice that look like THIS. I’d recommend churches to engage these alternate lyrics with whatever arrangement they’re used to. It’s a fresh way of approaching hymn-singing with pastoral intentionality. Download a chart here, and get the song for free.
Hillsong Young & Free, This is Living (EP)
I interacted with this album a bit on my post about how EDM could be influencing the form of song-structure, but I wanted to point it out as a sign of the times. The music is fun and dance-able. I wish the lyrics were a bit stronger (still a lot of triumphalism…e.g. see the opening lines of “Energy”) to match the beauty and joy of the music. I would challenge the folks doing great EDM-worship production to wed the music with fantastic texts so that dance music can be all it can be for the sake of the Church.
Coram Deo Church, Swallowed Up Death
This album is incredible. Top notch musicianship, creative production. The title track reminds me of Modest Mouse meets The Sing Team, with a generous helping of Motown. Their “Come My Way” is the first convincing tuning of this poetic hymn that I have ever heard (never been able to fully sing some of the standard tunes). “How Heavy is the Night” is an early-Radiohead-ish confession and clinging to the cross. “The King Shall Come” is a remarkable song for Advent. I love how albums like these are, in addition to repackaging hymns, interacting with the hymn tradition in the NEW songs they write. So informed, so passionate, so beautiful. I’m very inspired by this record.
Sojourn Music, New Again
They can do no wrong. I sang “New Again” with tears in my eyes for the first time at the Doxology & Theology Conference just a few months ago, and I was hooked. It’s another artistic, raw, roots-rock record in the musical spirit of The Water and the Blood. The texts are remarkable and deep, spanning the important and under-served themes of lamentation (“Psalm 126”), justice (“Let Justice Roll”), God’s special affection for the weak (“Blessed Are the Poor”). My favorite songs are their two eschatological masterpieces, “New Again,” and “Where Your Praise Never Ends.”
Bethel Music, We Will Not Be Shaken (LIVE)
Musically, this album is elegant, passionate, and artistic. Their production choices are unique, and they are the masters of creating music that you can feel. Textually, there’s a lot on this album really worth engaging. The message of the gospel is prominent throughout the record, and I’m drawn to many of the unique turns of phrase they offer to describe the age old Story. Listeners should especially pay attention to the rich theology of “No Longer Slaves” and “Seas of Crimson,” which are the two songs I keep going back to. The Bridge of “No Longer Slaves” has a wonderful phrase loaded with redemptive-historical allusion: “you split the sea so I could walk right through it.”
Drew Collins, Songs for the Liturgy
Denver-based worship leader, Drew Collins, gives us a small group of songs inspired by the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer. I recently sang his “We Hear” during an Anglican service where the cross was processed in. Songwriting like this helps liturgically-oriented congregations fill their worship with both passion and understanding. Moments of rock, but overall a very acoustically-driven record. Liturgophiles will find Collins’ rendering of the Sanctus joyful and accessible. I only recently became aware of this album, so I share it with you all now!
The Brilliance, Brother
The soundscape of modern church music is changing, and one of the groups we have to thank for expanding its palette and imagination is The Brilliance. With roots in the charismatic tradition, David Gungor and team have fallen head over heels in love with the Church’s rich liturgical heritage. Combine this with folk and classical sensibilities, and you’ve got a small taste for what their mellow, brooding, and introspective music is like. This most recent gift, Brother, resets tunes from previous records (a few of my favorites are “Does Your Heart Break,” and “Breathe,”) and offers a few new ones. The simplicity of the meditative “Brother” has been working on my heart. “Prayers of the People” could work in many liturgical contexts. It’s encouraging to me that The Brilliance is making such headway in Worship Leader Media, with both their conferences and magazines, and I wish them the best of success there. But whatever you do, don’t miss the fugue-like surprise ending to “May You Find a Light (Reprise)” that begins after the four-minute mark.
Robbie Seay Band, Psalms LP
In case you’ve missed Robbie Seay’s last three EP’s, he’s combined his psalms-obsession into one album. There’s no new material on the record, but you can now find all his psalm-settings in one spot. They are tasteful, singable, modernized renderings of the only fully inspired Hymn-book ever written. If you haven’t heard them yet, get acquainted!
Tyler Clements & Ryan Mayo, Songs for Danforth Chapel
A quaint, elegant acoustic-pop record with some wonderful options for playable, singable hymn arrangements (some retunes, some fresh arrangements of original tunes) which are accessible and congregation-friendly. Both in stylistic choices and singing, this sounds very much like early Caedmon’s Call. I love the opening verse of “Well-Worn”: “In grace my Savior did pursue / Though I to other saviors flew / By Jesus sought, by Spirit born / For grace has made its path well-worn.” It was released two years ago, but I’ve only recently come across it.