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Christian Contemporary Music – Miscellany

Album reviews of CCM artists who don’t qualify for their own page.

Earthsuit | Tim Hughes | Solace

Earthsuit

Kaleidoscope Superior

2000, 7/10
Judging solely from their debut album, it’s hard to tell whether New Orleans’ Earthsuit are someone’s cunning plan to provide a Christian alternative to the secular flavour of the month (circa the turn of the millenium), or an actual creative force. Kaleidoscope Superior is a somewhat uncomfortable conglomeration of reggae, synthpop, funk and Lord knows what else. Keyboardist Paul Meany’s occasional rap spotlights recall Rage Against The Machine, while ‘Wheel’ even comes across as a tribute to the Talking Heads’ funk era, with the guitar solo echoing the melody of ‘Crosseyed And Painless’ and the chorus echoing the lyrics of ‘Slippery People’.

The grab bag of styles is a little hit and miss, but relatively entertaining and fast moving. Unsurprising for a Christian band, Earthsuit are more effective at creating catchy pop tunes such as ‘Whitehorse’ and ‘Do You Enjoy The Distortion?’ than when they are concocting abrasiveness in ‘Wheel’ and ‘Against The Grain’.Everything comes together in the single and lead off track ‘One Time’, where Earthsuit channel their funky instincts, pop sensibilities and aggressive aspirations in a manner that the rest of Kaleidoscope Superior fails to capture adequately. I’ve seen Earthsuit play live three times and ‘Schizophreniac’ and ‘Osmosis Land’, in particular, were far more punchy and effective in a live setting, capturing the anthemic nature that was obviously intended. To their credit, Earthsuit’s lyrics make an effort to be thoughtful and innovative, offering a somewhat mystical perspective of God, although they’re sometimes truncated incomprehensibly: “You’re like boa constriction/don’t lube the friction”.

Earthsuit’s sophomore project will reveal more about their true calibre, but standing alone Kaleidoscope Superior is an entertaining but somewhat frustrating debut.


Tim Hughes

Here I Am To Worship

2002, 8/10
There seem to be two major schools of worship music floating around at the moment; the bombastic illegitimate child of Boston and Billy Graham as practised by America’s Sonic Flood, and the melodic and low key style emanating from England’s Survivor Records. It goes without saying that I strongly prefer the latter. It’s tempting to accuse Tim Hughes of being overly derivative of his older and more prominent label mate Matt Redman, but difficult to blame him given that Redman attends the same Church and has developed an effective and unembarrassing musical style. If anything, Hughes streamlines Redman’s style even further; there’s less of a retro feel to Hughes’ arrangements, a greater willingness to rock, and a gratifying paucity of female backing vocalists. I have a suspicion that the album would sound better without so many strings, but there’s a limit to how far Hughes can push the boundaries in one stroke.

Suprirsingly, the producers of this album were founding members of Sonic Flood, but they’ve either curbed their worst tendencies or were unwilling parties in the first place. Hughes’ vocals are excellent as he consistently sounds enthusiastic and sincere, while his voice is reassuringly warm and English. My favourite songs are ‘If There’s One Thing’, ‘Never Lose The Wonder’, which floats by like a soft whisper, and the melodic title track. Here I Am To Worship is also nicely shaped as it starts out relatively intense (‘Maker Of All Things’ rocks quite respectably), and cools down into a more worshipful feel. Here I Am To Worship is derivative and straightforward, so that the songs can be used in Church, and so that listeners can sing along easily.

“I would never personally use the word ‘artist’ to describe myself,” [Hughes] admits. “I’m a worship leader, and I write songs to fuel the church.”), but it achieves its aims virtually perfectly with sincerity and taste.


Solace

Send And Transmit

2002, 7.5/10
Brian Platt’s Solace come from the same church as Form; while Form are a more straight ahead rock band, Solace are more likely to explore texture and atmosphere. Form’s Dean Rush has a strong arena rock voice, while Platt’s is more vulnerable with a lovely upper register. Their tasteful sense of guitar tones and spacious arrangements lend more depth to the material on Send And Transmit. The lyrics are also accomplished; economical but genuinely worshipful and bearing a stamp of personality.

The outstanding track is ‘Day 3′, with an atmospheric verse exploding into a propulsive chorus. The song compresses the message of salvation (Day 3 is a reference to Jesus’ resurrection) into a delectable tune; “You can take a broken life/Make it into something new.” ‘Angels’ is a lovely slice of Brit-pop (Platt wears an Union Jack t-shirt when he plays live), with an original yet familiar pre-chorus section. Elsewhere, the best songs are when Solace crank up the atmosphere; ‘Higher’ exploits the longing in Platt’s voice (“Higher and higher/ deeper and deeper/ Wide as the oceans span”), while ‘Holy One’ and ‘High Above’ both show it’s possible to build an atmosphere of worship without resorting to female backing vocalists, strings or cheesy synthesisers. ‘Holy One’ in particular uses a spare arrangement to its advantage, with nice gentle piano.

Send And Transmit isn’t wall to wall brilliance, as some of the rock songs are nondescript, but it’s still staggering that New Zealand can produce a second rock/worship band this good.

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