Review: "Church Music", David Crowder*Band

I just finished listening to Church Music, the new David Crowder album. I think it is their best album to date.

According to Wikipedia:

The album runs continuously with no gaps between tracks, essentially creating a 73 minute song. To do this the band sequenced the tracks before anything had been recorded so keys and tempos could be finalized. According to David Crowder, ""We programmed the album first, forcing ourselves to write from the track up, and then, after the song emerged, we dismantled it, replacing much of the programming with live instrumentation but leaving the fundamentals that the song emerged from intact."

Listening to the album from beginning to end, you get the sense that the writing process created fundamental changes in the band's approach to style and genre. While still rooted firmly in sequencing and sampling, as has become DC*B's bread and butter, much of the acoustic flavor of their earlier work has been replaced by dark and dense guitar and synth soundscapes. The album's power is magnified by the band's attention to intensity and dynamic range. Songs often soar to maximum heights just before the instrumentation drops away to reveal previously unnoticed underlying tracks. The album pulses with a rising and falling from track to track, but all the while continuing to build from beginning to end.

For me, the record climaxes at track 16 with (dare I say it) the heaviest song on the album, "God Almighty, None Compares", a nearly seven minute minor key clinic of time changes, heavy electric guitar hooks, and a wailing Hammet-esque wah solo on the outro. This is not your typical David Crowder*Band album, if there ever has been such a thing. Gosh there's even a funk number on the album, "Church Music - Dance [!]". The funk guitar work is great, the 70s disco string hits don't feel out of place, the distorted synth bass figure keeps it current...

Another standout track for me is "How He Loves". The crowded coffee shop background noise cements a sense of community and shared experience that fits perfectly with the lyrics.

"And we are His portion and He is our prize, Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes, If his grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking. And heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss, And my heart turns violently inside of my chest, I don’t have time to maintain these regrets, When I think about, the way He loves us, Oh how He loves us, Oh how He loves..."

When so many CCM lyrics sound like middle school love poems, Crowder's lyrics rise above, reaching artistic and theological heights seldom heard. And I'm happy to say that the music on this album is more than an equal match for the lyrics. The license and creative freedom enjoyed by DC*B to pursue their muse is to be admired. Church Music is quite an achievement in this sense. From the original tracking and writing process down to the final outcome, the album is risky, and it succeeds.

One nitpick: I am not the greatest fan of the overcompressed brick wall limiting that has become almost standard practice in the music industry. The loudness wars have had a drastic effect on the dynamic quality of modern recordings over the last several years, and unfortunately this album goes too far with it at times. Although Church Music is far the worst perpetrator of recent date (the effect is not found throughout the album, and at times I found it to be musically pleasing, creating intensity and power in some key passages), still I found my ears tiring from the extreme compression during certain sustained sections.

Track listing

1. "Phos Hilaron [Hail Gladdening Light]" - 2:06
2. "Alleluia, Sing" - 4:30
3. "The Nearness" - 3:55
4. "Shadows" - 3:26
5. "Eastern Hymn" - 6:26
6. "SMS [Shine]" - 3:18
7. "The Veil" - 4:19
8. "We Are Loved" - 4:17
9. "All Around Me" (Flyleaf cover) - 4:37
10. "How He Loves" (John Mark McMillan cover) - 5:19
11. "Can I Lie" - 3:24
12. "Birmingham [We Are Safe]" - 3:38
13. "Church Music - Dance [!]" - 3:52
14. "What A Miracle" - 3:41
15. "Oh, Happiness" - 3:17
16. "God Almighty, None Compares" - 6:51
17. "In The End [O Resplendent Light!]" - 6:53