Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Music Review - The Choir - Shadow Weaver

The Choir, one of my favorite bands since becoming a Christian twenty five years ago, has released a new album. Their poetic lyrics have provided countless hours of encouragement and comfort to my soul while the innovative yet melodic music gave me hope that not all Christian music was cheesy and helped keep me from sliding back into music with lyrics that would have harmed my seedling faith. As you might expect, the boys in the band have undergone a number of changes in a quarter century and are not the same men they were. They are older, mellower, perhaps content with their place in life instead of being hungry to make it big. Children have been born, raised, and are leaving the nest. Marriages have failed or beaten the odds. They've shared their lives with us, allowing glimpses into their daily life in a way few bands do, almost making us an extended family.

Now a new member to the discography is born: Shadow Weaver. As I take off my nostalgic cap and don my critical music reviewers fedora, I can honestly saw that it's at least twice as good as their last album. But this isn't saying much because The Loudest Sound Ever Heard is my least favorite Choir album, ranking even lower than their sophomore effort Diamonds and Rain. It (LSEH, not DAR) was a transitional album where the lyricist was newly sober and his wife asked for the troubles in their marriage to no longer be the subject of his songs so he was struggling to find his new muse. Now that he's had some time to adjust his lyrics have definitely improved.

But there's still a problem. The rhyme scheme he has chosen for seven out of the thirteen songs on the album is repetative.

Name of the song
Rhyme A
Rhyme A
Name of the song

Here's an example: It hurts to say goodbye / It hurts to say goodbye / Feathers ride on the wind / The bird was made to fly / It hurts to say goodbye

There are slight variations, such as "Everybody's Got a Guru" where the chorus is just the title of the song repeated over and over. Do this in one song, fine. Do it in seven out of thirteen (actually out of eleven since one song is an instrumental and one is a nearly instrumental reprise) and it's going to wear out it's welcome pronto.

Being the analytic dork that I am I wondered if perhaps this was typical for the band and I hadn't noticed it before so I did a quick random sampling, picking one or two songs from each album:

Everybody in the Band - somewhat
Cain - no
Merciful Eyes - no
Listen to Her Eyes - Oh yes. - from Diamonds and Rain
Flowing Over Me - no
Away with the Swine - no
Weather Girl - no
Nobody Gets A Smooth Ride - no
Alright Tonight - Chorus is just title twice - from Voices in Shadows
Robin Had A Dream - no chorus
Wide Eyed Wonder - no
Legend of Old Man Byrd - no
Melodious - no

As you can see, the only instances where I found what I consider to be a lazy form of poetry occurred in their earliest and least mature albums. I wouldn't mind so much except that The Choir used to be the example I would turn to for proving that Christian lyrics can have depth and layers of nuance, taking everyday events and turning them into universal themes. Now they're returned to simplistic and often politically correct preachiness that made songs like "You do that triangle" so cringe-worthy. For instance, "Antithesis of Blue" which tells of a day where Steve's wife asked him to do some things while she was gone but returned to find that he'd done nothing. She pretty much calls him a lovable scamp and sends the boy out to the garden to get some herbs. That's it? Where's the tension? Good fiction relies on tension and resolution and I'd say the same applies to music. Oh, how the mighty have fallen!

Okay, enough out of this cranky old man. What's good about this album? For starters a few of the songs actually have a bit of grit about them. I never was one for ambient shoe-gazer music but what made The Choir great was their ability to mix this style with others, creating something new in the process. In that vein, "What Do You Think I Am" is a very strong song, mixing murky shimmers of guitar tones with a gutsy bass and confessional lyrics. More washes of sound and guitar fuzz are to be found in "It Hurts To Say Goodbye", a highlight where the ache of letting adult children go is captured in a very few poignent verses. "Get Gone" is another one with a nice head of steam, energetic in a relaxed way but with classic surreal Choir lyrics that leave much for the brain to chew on. A final quasi-rocker is "White Knuckles" where a slower, quieter verse opens up in the chorus, surrounded by lots of noise. Much of this noise may be due to Julian Kindred who has returned with his magic suitcase of effects, adding textures and noisy swirling distortions like no one I've ever heard. I also like the low groaning distorto-bass on "Shadow Weaver Reprise", though once again it seems like bassist Tim is muzzled on most of the album. Sure I'm biased but I think it was his "wrecking" their pretty songs on earlier albums that added interest, depth and tension. As a whole, the album sounds more like an album, instead of a series of songs, which has been their trend as late.

That's it. The grumpy old man is done grouching. This album at least showed promise and a step back in the right direction as well as adding a few new strong songs to their catalog and for that I'm grateful.

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