A Long Fall Back to Earth? Like Rain Falling in a Drought. {Album Review}

Years ago, matters of faith permeated the arts. The greatest artists often professed to be Christians and that was okay with society—certainly not all artists were believers, but would the arts be what they are today without the contributions of Michelangelo, Beethoven, Mozart, John Milton, etc.?

Today’s society tends to criticize artists known for expressing any form of [Christian] faith in their medium—song or canvas. It’s almost understandable within the music realm since exclusively Christian music labels regularly release less-than-stellar quality music. In fact, I have even come to find contemporary Christian music stations almost intolerable. However, Top 40 secular music doesn’t always offer much more quality; Paper Planes? I Kissed a Girl? Soldier Boy? No thanks.

Enter Jars of Clay. This band launched to platinum-level stardom in 1995 with their self-titled album that featured an incredible track listing. Many Christians still hold that album as one of their favorite albums of all time; yet, Jars of Clay’s fame in the mainstream industry has faded through the years. Their music hasn’t gotten worse; if anything, they’ve maintained music credibility in their 15 years more than almost any other artist can claim. They’ve never been satisfied to re-release the exact same album. It’s 2009, and Jars of Clay has nothing to prove to Christian industry, but they have something to prove to themselves.

They have experimented in folk, grunge, blues, retro-pop, and straightforward rock & roll, but have always been uniquely Jars. The Long Fall Back to Earth is no mere exercise in fleecing old fans to maintain an income. With this album, Jars of Clay has released their most cohesive, dynamic album of their career—which is extraordinarily impressive given that the band has consisted of the same 4 members since their formation in college.

Don’t be mistaken. This is not a Jars of Clay greatest hits album. It doesn’t sound quite like anything Jars has ever made, and yet it encapsulates their integrity, their drive to create the best art they possibly can, Christian or not. This album has a thematic flow, lyrical honesty, and musical drive. This band has not copied anyone else—comparisons to U2 are understandable but only in the way that Bach compares to Beethoven or Salvador Dali compares to Pablo Picasso. That is to say, they might share a handful of elements with their peers, but they are very much their own artists.

High praise, yes, but this is a masterpiece. The album opens with a brooding, dense, intro leading into the chilling “Weapons” which calls the listener to stop fighting the imagined evil of the person in front of them. The theme of reconciling relationships recurs throughout. Most of the songs are poetic and genuine while still maintaining openness to interpretation—are they talking about their wife, their best friend, God, their own son? All of the above. This isn’t mere ambiguity to gain records sales, though; I think Jars would make the music they make if no one would buy it.

The Long Fall is an exercise in pop genius. It’s hard to identify specific highlights without giving a song by song review, but truly, songs like “Heaven,” with its electro-pop leanings and lyrical brilliance that recall the writings of Augustine or C.S. Lewis, the intimate wordplay of “Closer” [“I want your kite strings tangled in my trees, all wrapped up…I’ll be the comets that are falling from the sky you light up”], the pleading “Safe to Land,” give the listener something to digest for years to come. At risk of my credibility among my album reviewing counterparts , I must mention that I’ve read a few reviews that criticize the song “Boys (Lesson One).” Boys is one of the most touching, inspired father-to-son song I have ever heard. If only every boy could experience the unconditional love so present in this song.

The album is a hearty and satisfying 59 minutes. It’s very difficult for an artist to offer so much at once and maintain a consistency throughout. Perhaps “Boys” would best be placed in another spot on the album; perhaps there could be a more definitive closer. But frankly, to leave any song off the album would be a disservice. Each songs stands alone strong, but as a rope gains strength by weaving strands, so does The Long Fall.

So that’s it. Jars has not followed the standard musical career path. They began honest, yet popular. They continue honestly despite less mainstream exposure. It’s the listeners’ loss though, if they don’t give it a chance. Jars is not just the best “Christian band,” they are one of the finest music acts this generation has ever been graced with.

5/5, 10/10, A+…. I don’t care what rating system you like. It’s a must have.

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Music Review: Between Faith and Thought

The Sea EP by Between Faith and Thought

Review by Joshua S. Murray

Today’s music scene is different. No longer is the world incapable of hearing music not produced by one of the major labels. A little searching on the internet will allow you to find a myriad of independent artists. This is great, of course, but that doesn’t mean the music is any good. Still, the cream tends to rise to the top. For example a number of artists owe much of their fandom to music discovery sites like purevolume and virb. Artists like Derek Webb and Radiohead have rocked the music scene with free or optional payment. The result? More people listening to more music forming more relationships and gaining a better appreciation for the heart of art.

Between Faith and Thought, an eclectic band with Lynchburg, VA ties is an example of a band that could (and perhaps should?) garner such a rabid following. A folk-tinged and somewhat experimental indie band with a vertical focus, this isn’t a cliché worship band – a visit to their virb will show you such band roles as “live art” and “poet.” With the free online release of their new EP, The Sea, Between Faith and Thought has put forth what a quality EP should be.

The Sea, as you might guess from the title, is a thematic disc (well… technically, it’s only available in mp3 format and not on a disc at this moment). Lyrically, every song has a connection to the sea, and musically, the wet reverb effects and organic compositions drive the feeling home. The EP includes five original songs and a cover of Thrice (whose recent work is an obvious influence on the songwriting). “Lift Your Sails” starts the album with a melding of acoustic and synthetic – a risk that pays off for most of the EP. It’s plaintive conversational song about finding rest in God and the strength to do the impossible in Him. One of the most outstanding tracks follows – a rendition of Psalm 93. Hauntingly beautiful, I can just imagine the psalmist being excited at such an arrangement. “Rocket to the Bottom of the Sea” takes the listener through a journey of drowning out the interference in our lives that keep us from an intimate relationship with our Creator. A personal highlight for me was “As I Swim Out.” It’s an intimate love song to the “Maker of the stars” pleading for graceful assurance. “The Tides” introduces a bit of harmony in the vocals – surprisingly the EP doesn’t employ those harmonies as much as it probably could have in other parts. The Sea concludes with a cover of Thrice’s recent single, “Digital Sea.” Now, if any band is my favorite, it’s Thrice – so I was curious to see how Micah Hasty and company would handle this song. They did this song justice, but it doesn’t bring anything new to the table – a solid cover and tribute to a phenomenal and highly influential band; it helps that this song also fits the theme of the EP very well.

Overall, the Sea is a welcome listen. I’ve found myself listening to it repeatedly since it came out yesterday. As is the case with all EP’s, it’s relatively short, but it certainly gives you a lot of quality in that short amount of time. As far as criticisms go, I only have a few. I think the reverb effects do a very good job of creating the maritime atmosphere that was sought in the creation of this project, but they might have been just overdone. Micah has an outstanding voice but it was drowned out a bit (no pun intended… okay, well, maybe a little). Also, I know these guys can create some beautiful harmonies, so it would have been nice hear a bit more in that area. Still, this EP is well worth the download; and I’d dare say you’ll find yourself regularly listening to it for a long time. If it cost money to buy this EP, it’d be worth every penny – but the fact that it’s free gives you no excuse not to give them a chance. They may or may not explode in popularity, but one thing is for sure – this is music as music should be, from the heart of the artist.