Collect for Candlemas

Almighty and ever-living God, we humbly beseech thy majesty: that, as thine Only-Begotten Son was this day presented in the temple in the substance of our flesh; so we may be presented unto thee with pure and clean hearts, by the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Review: "All Souls' Day" by Youngest Son

All Souls' Day is the fittingly titled sister EP to Youngest Son's 2012 release All Saints' Day. It's my first exposure to their work, and me likee. It will be available on the 29th of this month -- I am not altogether sure where ... but you can follow Steve Slagg on Twitter, he being one of the minds behind the band, and I'm sure he'll be promoting it.

The Strong Points

Usually contemporary Christian music bores me*: I tend to stick to chant and sixteenth-to-eighteenth-century church music, except for a handful of artists like Phil Wickham, and some super fringe folks like mewithoutYou (C-Minor is a good sample of their sound) or the woefully neglected Psalters (Trisagion being a good sample of theirs). I've gotta say, Youngest Son definitely seems to be a cut above the normal run of saccharine, lyrically timid pop-worship.

I unfortunately wasn't able to take a listen to All Saints' Day, but I was able to look over the lyrics of that album, and poetically it's an arresting composition. The stated themes of that album are grief, memory, nature, and faith. Saints' thus transitions very naturally into Souls', which picks up on several of the same concepts and motifs, linking them largely, as its predecessor does, through the imagery of water and specifically of Baptism, with the appropriate accompaniment -- though we often forget how and why it is so appropriate -- of many allusions to and reflections on death. The words remind me at times of Sufjan Stevens: they have something of the same strange, vivid quality his so often possess. To this, Youngest Son adds a direct, even here and there a raw, expression of feeling that resonated with me. Two songs that All Souls' Day reproduces, "Hole In the Sky" (my personal favorite) and "Long Year," both bring this out particularly boldly. To give you the idea, the haunting refrain of the former runs thus:

There's a hole in the sky
Where his body should be
There's a hole in the ground
Where his body should be
There's a hole in my arms
Where his body should be
There's a hole in the sky

Musically there are some parallels to Sufjan Stevens, and others -- Linford Detweiler, Aqualung, and Bon Iver spring to mind. The instrumental "Anticipate Your Arrival" is, I feel, one of the finest tracks on the album, swelling with a slow beauty, and almost calling to mind the tuning-up of an orchestra. The structure of "Quiet Revival" may be the most striking and successful: beginning with the melancholy, gentle sound that characterizes most of the EP, it breaks into an energetic combination of piano and violin, almost as if the instruments are recalling the church fire that the song in part commemorates, and then returns smoothly into its point of origin, suiting the closing stanza ideally.

It may sound odd to bring up, but once you see it I think you'll agree that it's not odd at all: one of my favorite things about this EP is the artwork. I feel it shows the medium of collage at its best, using some photographs that are taking in their own right and combining them, to excellent effect, with a large selection of images early Mediaeval religious paintings, chiefly angels and saints. In addition to being compelling works of art in their own right -- I'd happily hang framed versions of the pieces that accompany "Hole In the Sky" and "Lake Superior" -- they suit the matter and manner of the album itself very well. Its themes of finding God in ordinary experience, especially nature, are superbly illustrated by the apocalyptic illuminations these collages provide.

The Weak Points

There are, I'm happy to say, few of these. However, I do feel that the artists could have been more boldly experimental with the music at points: there are a few places where riffs are repeated that could, I think, have been subtly altered from one iteration to the next, to bring out alternate aspects. "Quiet Revival" has this feel in the first of its three sections, and I'd say the same of "Blank Face." I get the sense, in listening to this EP, that the band is still finding their sound: they strike out here and there, but on the whole one can hear their sources in their music. I'd greatly like to see them assume a more independent musical character.

Aside from that, I could only really suggest a good polish -- though that may be because I'm so accustomed to listening to post-production music.

Is It Worth Buying?

Totes. It's a solid EP. Go forth and purchase. I mean, once it comes out.

*Looking in your direction, MercyMe, and to a lesser extent Casting Crowns. Hillsong gets a pass because they are in my opinion uncommonly talented at doing what they're doing, even if what they're doing is something for which I happen to have little taste.

1 comment:

  1. Now this is going to sound crazy, especially given the artist you just listed as palatable, but this album (which is currently being given away free by the artist) is a remixed folk album based on the various works of C. S. Lewis and the lyrics get amazingly real and philosophically challenging at the same time. It is remixed into being a hiphop album, but if you can get passed the genre barrier I think you would like it.