“Deep Cuts” by The Choir Offers A Portal To Genuine Art

True art distinguishes itself from even quality art in how it evokes different reactions at different times. The same work can at one moment be politely noted and quickly set aside, with the next marked by shattering power and sweep, utterly gripping via its provided portal to its creators hearts and heads ultimately pointing to the ultimate Creator. Such is the case with Deep Cuts, the new album by veteran Christian alt rockers The Choir.

The Choir’s stock in trade has long been atmospheric fusion of dissonance and resolution; straightforward yet unsimplistic tunesmithing weaving guitarist/vocalist Derri Daugherty’s colors and melody with drummer/lyricist Steve Hindalong’s multifaceted musings on life and faith plus Dan Michael’s textured woodwinds. Deep Cuts is no different in this regard than previous Choir outings, although it bears noting the ethereal elements are more prominent this time through than on the previous Bloodshot.

What clicks on Deep Cuts is how it takes the by now familiar and makes it utterly new. The melodies are solid; the backing treatments enhancing without overpowering the fundamental tunes. Lyrically Hindalong mines relationships with God and man alongside human frailty. Morose never, thoughtful always. The album has a late night vibe; art perfectly suited for contemplation and remembrance of what was mixed with acknowledgement of what is and will be.

In a perfect world, Deep Cuts would be presented by the band to arenas packed with grateful fellowshippers. It won’t be, of course. True art seldom receives mass acclaim. But for the fortunate few who’ve caught the vision, Deep Cuts is a cut far, far above the norm.

The album is available from the band’s website.

New Music Review: “Requiem” by Rachel Wilhelm Offers A Moving, Intelligent Vessel For Grief

In a society fiercely bent on interpreting yesterday’s actions by today’s definitions and filtering all information through feelings deemed sacrosanct, it’s become increasingly difficult explaining to the jaded, when confronted by events such as the coronavirus pandemic, that we need to learn from, not sneer at, the past and how such genuine traumas were handled. Solomon was correct when he wearily wrote there is nothing new under the sun; although industry and technology continue expanding, humanity itself stubbornly remains the same fallen, self-deluded mortal mass it has always been and will always be until Christ returns.

To some, the pandemic is an inconvenience, a perpetual nuisance of mask-wearing and inability to hit the town on Saturday night for partying with friends. To far too many, however, it has been and continues to be a wound of the worst kind, the burying of loved ones without the ability to so much as offer a proper funeral for fear of spreading or encountering the hideous disease from which so many have fallen. To those directly affected, vapid diversions offered by pop culture and endless debate over the self-important silly frivolity of self-definition are exposed for the chaff they have always been. There is a wound in their heart and mind defying healing; the anguish of those loved now forever gone from this world. They need something tangible, something real to get them through the days and endless empty nights. Thankfully, we now have Requiem by Rachel Wilhelm to help.

In Requiem, Wilhelm brings all her considerable skills and experience as a presently Tennessee-based Minister of Music and Worship Arts to bear in tackling a subject few Christian artists dare touch, that being something with which to address earthly mortality not solely in terms of eternal destiny and Christ’s triumph over the grave, but what those who remain now do when confronting the unyielding void left by a loved one’s passing.

Starting with the artistic side, she impeccably voices the album through traditional liturgical themes and flow, making what is often dismissed as staid and dated into a direct encounter with faith and life’s reality upon which tradition is built and sustained not because it’s old, but because it has been proved over time to work.

Wilhelm’s compositional and arrangement skills are second to none. She superbly blends threads of traditional church music, light classical, and the melodic side of ‘70s progressive rock as embodied by bands such as Camel and Renaissance into a seamless, breathtaking whole. There is depth to Wilhelm’s work, the kind where multiple listens bring new revelations each time.

Lyrically, Wilhelm, along with on some songs whole or collaborative input from Kate Bluett, hews to the theme of man’s mortality and utter reliance on Christ, following this with the simultaneous acknowledgement of grief and loss while celebrating the knowledge that a loved one is now forever in heaven with Jesus. There are no smarmy, syrupy shortcuts or touchy-feely platitudes. The words are real, even as the grief not abandoned by comfort is real.

Requiem is not background music for the bored seeking spiritual coddling. It is artistically superb and devastatingly genuine. For those who have unwillingly joined the unfortunate fellowship, Rachel Wilhelm has presented a beautiful, moving focal point of truth and realistic comfort.

The album is available on Bandcamp.

“Bloodshot” by The Choir Deeply Satisfies

(This post originally appeared on Goldfish and Clowns.)

It’s difficult to envision veteran Christian alt rockers The Choir being in the company of country artists back when it was barely out of its teens, a time finding artists such as The Carter Family, Bob Willis, and Bill Monroe routinely crisscrossing the country planting seeds of a genre they created. Also, it’s not that Bloodshot, The Choir’s new album, is in any sense a country album. However, there is a common thread; more on this in a bit.

Throughout its career The Choir has with graceful ease traversed between atmospheric and near avant-garde, musically built around Derri Daugherty’s sometimes dreamy and at other moments razor slice guitar while Steve Hindalong’s lyrics have purposefully plumbed relationships, life fragments, and faith through a poet’s eyes. In this respect Bloodshot is no different than its predecessors. The Choir have for decades made extremely even albums, never failing to deliver something solid wrapped within textural diversity. Bloodshot, however, has some twists revealing Messrs. Daugherty and Hindalong, plus Tim Chandler on bass and Dan Michaels on assorted reed instruments, are still more than capable of bringing something new to the turntable.

Bloodshot is in many ways the most straightforward album The Choir has ever recorded. Not that the music is an exercise in formulaic commercial ear candy; rather, the songs are simpler without being simplistic: more direct, more immediately accessible. Daugherty frequently employs strummed chords as a foundation upon which to bounce his effects-rich electric work, using it to create far more guitar interplay than is present in most Choir efforts. Even when there is but one guitar present, Daugherty accomplishes the rare feat of creating multiple sound swirls dancing around each other, always perfectly meshed within the song in lieu of drawing attention to themselves alone.

The album also differs lyrically from the majority of prior albums in that it is far more heavily relationship-focused. Not that faith is being dismissed, but on Bloodshot Hindalong is at his most playful and celebratory of love between two people. This is the album you play for those who deride Christian music as bereft of romance.

Where the album harkens back to country’s emerging years is in its songs at their core. They are solid, uncomplicated, and tuneful; the essence of country long before it went cosmopolitan. It is not difficult to hear the compositions and picture them coming out of a dome-shaped AM radio, performed by a small acoustic ensemble in some station’s studio designed for live music. Whether this is intentional or unplanned is something only The Choir can answer, but regardless it is there.

It’s easy, and sadly all too common, for an established band to trot out the same ol’ same ol’ album after album, knowing this will satisfy the vast majority of their audience. The Choir think and act differently. Bloodshot isn’t a radical departure, but rather a superb exploration of songs and sounds fused together, creating a record that’s memorable for all the right reasons.

The album is available for preorder on iTunes.

Mad At The World Brings Us Some Very Good Hope

Synthpop, it was said during its heyday, was progressive rock for keyboardists who couldn’t play. A tad harsh, but during synthpop’s nascent years, the endless stream of electric blips, beeps, and beats was anything but electric for those wishing to have something more than mindless dance rhythms in their music. You know, things like melody and hooks and all that other icky stuff.

Born during the late ‘70s new wave craze, synthpop eventually outgrew its simplistic beginning when artists like Howard Jones started bringing more traditional pop elements — reference earlier comment regarding melody and hooks — into the mix, this arguably de-evolving into today’s autotuned cookie cutter pop poo. However, for a brief flourish during the ‘80s, synthpop was a pleasant mix of pop and still-fresh instrumentation.

Enter Mad At The World. Mad At The World was the brainchild of one Roger Rose, who when not working his day job as a postman in Southern California was working on his music, and his younger brother Randy. Roger and Randy loved synthpop (and still do). Roger and Randy loved Jesus (and still do). Roger and Randy decided the two would work well together. Hence, Mad At The World was born.

Although synthpop was not an entirely unknown quantity in Christian music, at its inception Mad At The World hewed far closer to the more gritty purveyors of same than, say, Crumbächer who were far more pop vocal inclined. During its career Mad At The World made two major music shifts, first going toward heavy guitar rock and then mining a more mainstream rock/pop vein. In the beginning, though, the band was muscular synthpop.

Fast forward to the present day. While Randy has remained musically active — review of his most recent solo effort here — Roger has been out of the spotlight for many years, leaving Mad At The World naught but a fond memory for its fans. Then last year, Randy had an idea. C’mon big brother, let’s record three new albums, each reflecting one of Mad At The World’s musical phases! Roger was game, so after a Kickstarter campaign to raise the necessary funds, recording commenced. The end result is Hope.

Hope makes no pretense of being anything other than what it is, namely a faithful and affectionate ode to synthpop. The instrumentation is relatively sparse; the melodies simple but thoroughly effective. Roger Rose affects a bit of an accent when singing (hey, so does Billie Joe Armstrong), but it works within the artistic context of this album. Lyrically things are mostly straightforward roots evangelical. It’s not deep theological musings, but it is both comforting and encouraging.

When viewed through quality and not nostalgia’s lens, Hope makes a strong case for being Mad At The World’s best synthpop album and easily one of its best period. The brothers Rose have always made very even albums, but this time through the songwriting is kicked up a notch. Hope might appear to be little more than dusting off a bygone era in contemporary music, but it’s not. Rather, it is a solid, brand new testimony to the truism that if it was good yesterday, it’s good today as well. Very, very good.

The record is available here.