Album Review: Jars of Clay ‘Inland’

Jars of Clay 'Inland'

Jars of Clay ‘Inland’

Jars of Clay have found the sound that defines them…. they have found their place on the musical landscape.

From their debut self titled album in 1995 where they were “the Christian Toad the Wet Sprocket” to “If I left the Zoo” where they almost had a ‘Counting Crows’ feel to them, there have been touches of 80’s instrumentation added to the mix over the years too, but now…. here is a band comfortable in who they are…. a band with it’s own sound that is a real accumulation of  their musical journey.

‘Inland’ is the first album since Jars of Clays 2010 collaborative effort ‘The Shelter’ – so which Jars of Clay will turn up?

From the very first tracks you hear that this is going to be a very organic album…. it has a very Indie heart to this album and it’s no surprise as you see that Tucker Martine who has worked with the likes of The Decemberists, R.E.M. , Beth Orton and Sufjan Stevens all of which are Indie alternative folk artists.

Tucker is definitely at the helm and you can hear his influence on the album with tracks like ‘Fall Asleep’ bringing back memories of R.E.M.’s ‘Night swimming’.

One of the greatest things about Jars of Clay is they aren’t worried about ‘the usual’ radio sound…. and that has to be rewarded. The music is something that is onomatopoeic in it’s approach you hear the lyrics and the music is almost mimicking the feel, the sound, the tension of the song and you hear the alarms ring as they sing about getting your attention.

This isn’t a comfortable album to listen to… it’s alternative in it’s approach, it doesn’t have nice edges to it and will push you… if not lyrically…. maybe musically. I like that… music with dimension to it…. (who would have guessed that it could happen in this day and age) . The band even touches on previously untouched ground like ‘Loneliness and Alcohol’. While I’m sure other Christian artists may have touched in the subject Jars of Clay have given it the real focus it needs:

“Tell me of the world you’re leaving
While you’re swinging like a wrecking ball
Bury all your love in secrets
And loneliness in alcohol”

I love how the album signs off…. with the song ‘Inland’– no man is an Island and it’s a multi-dimensional approach to it… community and the God that never leaves you.

“Just keep heading inland and come on home to me
Yeah come on home to me”

This is the most complete album that Jars of Clay have released (maybe ever)  and certainly deserves a listen…. even if it’s only for tracks like ‘After the Fight’ and ‘Fall asleep’ however it’s an album that has the best of what the band has done previously (in sound and lyric) but has enough foresight and edge to give this album longevity that would leave other Christian albums that will be coming out this year lost in this years offerings as the compete for the latest sound.

Inland will stand alone as a pioneer album in a world of albums that are happy to be in the safe flow of the mainstream…. and this is the Irony of Jars of Clay.

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Album Review: The Digital Age ‘Evening:Morning’

The Digital Age – Evening:Morning

I’ve been bored with church music.

It seems to be rehashing the same paint by numbers music…. follow this formula and it will be a church hit. And while I understand that there are some great church songs out there I really think there are very few church song albums. By this I mean songs and albums that are simple in their approach, simple truths that our faith is built on… and it has to be creatively done…. after all shouldn’t church be the most creative place in the world since we have the most creative thing to write about… heck writing THROUGH us even!!!
Worship albums seem to be coming with an agenda attached, poverty/trafficking/sex etc…. and the list goes on. And while all of these things are important and should be looked at and should be given a focus isn’t it all taking away from the creator?
If we love the Lord our God with all our hearts/minds/soul/spirit shouldn’t that other stuff stir within us naturally anyway?

And then I received Evening:Morning.

I have to admit I was a little nervous…
The reason I got nervous was not because I was worried that the music would be bad… or boring… but because these guys have a reputation of pushing ‘church music’ and I had to wonder if I was going to like where it takes me. The Digital Age (TDA) is four core members of the David Crowder*Band that become The Digital Age (Mark Waldrop, Jack Parker, Jeremy “B-Wack” Bush and Mike “Mike D” Dodson) 

The heart of this concept ‘worship album’ is 12 songs that represent the 12 hours begining at night and on to dawn. It’s qite symbolic in it’s approach to in the sense that it pushes itself forward musically standing on the shoulders of the past lyrically. I really like what Mark says about this:

 “We were at the studio late one night and I’d had a conversation with a friend earlier about how worship bands try to say things new, when there are so many great old things to draw on. It’s (the song Believe) from the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed. It’s so straightforward and it repeats, and it’s what we believe. These words are so ancient they don’t need to be modernized; when I hear it, it reminds me of going to church as a kid.”

The album starts of with the words:

“Love
You’ve captured me again
Love
You steal my heart “

The song Captured almost reminds me of Rend Collective Experiment it’s almost got that Celtic lean to it… and I can’t help but notice how simple the lyrics are… I thought at first that this might get annoying if they ended up like this for the whole album however I find that it is indeed a stroke of genius…. It’s so easy to pick up each song as you go through the album it’s almost as if they are strangely familiar… and they are… they’re almost like a refreshing of your faith.

Now this is an Alternative Rock album…. it pushes in concept and musically there is plenty on here to rock to however this is a journey that takes you through the night and there is also plenty here to help you search your heart.

Now even as I write that’s an alt rock album I hesitate.
From one band there is such as large soundscape… at one point you’re almost about to get into a jig, and the next track you’re rocking out… the next song will take you to the club… before taking you through a soul searching ballad. This really is a band that’s hard to pin down a genre for… even for one album the band diversifies. This works with the bands concept of what church music should be like:

The term ‘modern worship’ is played out; all these other things are played out. All we’re trying to do is write music that sounds like what we listen to, but worship music specifically. You have to be aware of the church and make it accessible. But we don’t want to fit into any mold. Worship music needs to meet the broader culture to make it more relevant.”

Where this album is so good is in three key areas… Lyrically it’s easy to pick up the words… Musically it’s easy to pick up , and you’ll be singing along before you know it as the choruses for a lot of the album have great hooks that will stay with you… and finally it’s full of faith, you know where these guys stand, unashamed and proud of it.

This album has become one of my favourite ‘church music’ albums of the year. It’s a really interesting album and is accessible for everyone, but it’s so multi-layered and multi-dimensional that you keep discovering more and more that speaks to you, interests you, challenges you….

If this is TDA’s first album…. in a year or two from here we could be redefining what ‘Church Music’actually sounds like…. and these guys would be on the forefront of that revolution.

“Our God isn’t passive and in the grave. He’s active and so we thought, ‘Let’s put the flashlight ahead of us and see what step we’re supposed to take.’ We don’t know where we’re going but we’re going somewhere and we’re trusting that God is with us every step. We’ve been given the gist; we’ve been given the songs. Now it’s time to go out into the wild, follow … and see.” – Mark Waldrop (The Digital Age)