3 albums, 33 tracks

ReligiousAlternative/Indie Rock



Mar 06, 2019

‘Burn The Ships’ Is Modern Christian & Gospel Music That Might Be Able To Reverse The Stressors On Your Spirit

Written by @taylor / 12 mins read

It has been a long long while since I have been to church, but for me it has often given me a boost in my life when I do participate in Sunday service. Yet these days, when I’m really stressed out and I need to get my mind off of the nuts and bolts of my existence, sometimes my only option is to take a drive in my car and put on some Christian radio to calm down, which I think for now, is an activity I still prefer over signing up for another tour of organized religion. I surely have a spiritual appetite or else I wouldn’t hunger for what’s unanswerable. Recently, I really needed to hear something meditative and encouraging, and so tuned to that oasis of a radio channel, where after a few songs, there was some promotional interview clip or excerpt setting up the song “God Only Knows” for a band who I would soon discover was named for King & Country. I’m not sure which member was speaking, but whether or not it was Joel or Luke Smallbone, I found the speaker’s words to be very wise, as he explained that he is constantly practicing love as much as possible, even when he gets a crazy hateful stare from some stranger intent on intimidating him, conceding that in actuality, he has no clue what this upset individual must have gone through in life in order to, in that moment, exhibit such unprovoked animosity. This is not really a turn the other cheek policy – but more of a spiritual empathetic gesture, where all the singer can do is practice positivity in light of such negativity, because from his perspective, “God Only Knows” what the guy has been through. The station then played the actual track, and while the lyrics were a little less obvious, the chorus really captured this sense of empathy for another’s unique frame of reference. I figured, ok, I need to hear this band’s album sometime, because this isn’t, so far, your average Christian & Gospel music. The track had a great sound, with wisely decisions on the notes and their placements, plus a bit of a kick to the drum section, yet not overloud for the sake of being overloud, per convention. By comparison, listening to the singles from Hillsong UNITED, the songs sound decent enough, but they are all way too similar to each other for my tastes, using the same wall of sound, the same drums, and not differentiating their sound, track to track. A couple weeks after my little meditative drive, I copped the newest CD for KING & COUNTRY, entitled Burn The Ships, without hearing the other songs beforehand, endeavoring to rely on my faith that the album would be of good quality and hopefully more internal variety than other albums on the market.

As The Album Progresses, I Wonder What Deeper Meanings Could Be Gleaned?

Over one of the more exciting Reggae Fusion beats that I have heard in recent memory, for KING & COUNTRY hook me right out the gate, with some great vocals that are anything but Country (as the duo has been categorized in the past). They take turns singing stanzas such as “lately, I've been reeling / watching the nightly news / don't seem to find the rhythm, just wanna sing the blues / feels like a song that never stops / feels like it's never gonna”, where the statement is completed by another lyrical verse and an underscoring of steel drum notes that motivate me to get up out of my seat and dance, as the hook makes the positive and non secular message crystal clear, with “oh, hear my prayer tonight, I'm singing to the sky / give me strength to raise my voice, let me testify / oh, hear my prayer tonight, 'cause this is do or die / the time has come to make a choice / and I choose joy.” It is interesting, because these statements correspond with the same conundrum I was in when driving and listening to the band for the first time, and in my way, I was praying for more joy – because I really needed it at that moment, due to an accumulation of negative thoughts. Sure, when I’m in more levelheaded phases, I’m not concerned with winning any Faith contest, content instead with my personal relationship with God, and by that same token, I don’t feel guilty about asking the universe for such a sign or favor when I do really need it. The most important thing is that more often than not, help comes in the form of a perspective change – and that is the power of having Faith in something watching over you, and certainly in conjunction with this, good music really helps in the transition to a state of well-being. The song, and especially the music video, is quite clever, yet I do have a caveat, as I am concerned with the many societal issues we face at the national and international level, which I do not believe should be overlooked by capping any conversation about what is at stake by choosing to just focus on joy through prayer and reframing. I still very much believe in a real world with complex problems, and therefore don’t agree with the escapist behavior displayed by folks of Faith who choose to pretend problems are simply units of negativity which only have power if they are publicly dwelled on. The video, using as metaphor differences in point of view in reference to the hugest mega-storm of the century hitting America, the positive news anchor would like to highlight the good news about the citizens banding together to weather the storm, while the negative Nancy news anchor prefers to dwell on the magnitude of its real destructive power. The segment conflates facts with rudeness – and I feel this is a mistake made by folks who tend to be both religiously devoted and deniers of climate change (the closest comparative issue). The storm could represent weather or the political climate, but I hear the message loud and clear – which is to look on the brighter side no matter what, which is akin to burying one’s head in the sand in the face of dangers that won’t simply just disappear if you’re ignoring them. Not one to be too hypocritical, I agree that allowing a joy reset in your life is needed, as my car radio moment showed me, but by the same token, I would never think it wise to spin the same joy onto the numerous issues America faces. Simply turning off the news does not stop the facts from happening.

A Definitely Modern And Synthetic Sound Quality Already Detected

“God Only Knows”, while heavier on the analog piano playing, contains a subtle yet distinctive electronic quality on the other instrument chords and layered vocal formants. “Amen”, a traditional Christian song with a Spanish Bolero flair, has it’s organic engine dropped into a very synthetic body, creating one heck of a natural/artificial hybrid, making it sound like one of the most intriguing arrangements on the album. It’s so cool because I’ve sung the song in Sunday school and at Church, but I’ve never imagined it could be remixed in such away. It began to dawn on me that this non secular music was definitely leading to Synth Pop, but not the typical kind which just rages for the sake of raging. Always, there is nuance at play here – a testament to the writing team and the less is more direction that for KING & COUNTRY was taking on Burn The Ships. Speaking of the title track, “Burn The Ships” would be next, and was definitely Synth Pop of the motoring variety. I enjoyed though that the one trick pony of perpetual arpeggio was not overdone, but rather, there are different styled measures which transition between rock and electronic patterns. It is a motivational song that comes off as ‘cutting your loses’ but is ultimately about total reinvention through prayer; “burn the ships, cut the ties / send a flare into the night / say a prayer, turn the tide / dry your tears and wave goodbye.” “Fight on, Fighter” says ‘the spirt is alive inside ya’ as it leaps onto an airy cloud of synth and bells. I feel it is one of the more generic beats and melodies, and taken together stylistically with “Burn The Ships”, I really hear a lot of Chris Marten and Coldplay in the instrumentation and vocalization – which is totally cool, except for the fact that “Fight on, Fighter” could constitute as the dullest Coldplay song I’ve ever heard. “Need You More” is one of the most excellent songs on Burn The Ships for several reasons. First off, it is the type of synth ballad I grew up on, being a huge fan of bands like The Blue Nile and that important, melancholic sound tinged with glimmers of hope. The sound perfectly matches the powerful moment behind the songs inception; Luke Smallbone and his pregnant wife experienced a traumatic event whilst she was giving birth to their third child, where the baby actually died in labor but then miraculously regained life functions and survived the very close call. Luke was of course praying during the whole desperate period, and thankfully, those prayers were answered. What I like about the lyrics to this song are they are not specific to the actual event, but are powerful in their surreal ambiguity nonetheless because they compress the timespan of the event, with lyrics representing the thoughts going through his head and the conclusions he was already instantly drawing based on a child who he loved unconditionally without them even officially meeting. He sings “prepare for the worst / hope for the best / won't you steady my heart / for whatever comes next”, and I believe he is talking to God, asking for help to deal with the limbo situation of not knowing if the son will pull through. I do like the dual interpretation of singing “so holy it is / so holy tonight is / oh, now I know I / now I know I / I need You more / yeah, I need you more / more than ever before”, and while the capital ‘You’ does infer the enlistment of the higher power, I like how he is just as specifically communicating with his struggling child, trying to psychically convince him to pull through. Magnificent depth, and poetically rendered.

The Verdict On Variety?

With ten well rounded tracks on Burn The Ships, I can tell by its close that it was a great experience and I feel sort of vindicated/satisfied that I chose to listen to but the album after only listening to that one single. It is exactly the tone that I thought it was going to be, and I suppose that is a testament to the quality of the vibe on “God Only Knows.” Already harping on the same sounding experience of Hillsong WORSHIP, is there enough variety on Burn The Ships track to track, which was a hope of mine? I would say not necessarily, as a majority of the music here follows the quiet electronic Pop route, but I certainly can’t forget about the distinctive Reggae and Tropical vibes exhibited on “joy.”, and I really think all these song handled their subject matter and genre appropriately. Some songs can be a tad dull or predictable, but the singing remains excellent, and, while it is a matter of taste, I like the combination of smooth R&B and Alternative Rock vocals as opposed to some overly Country or Folk vocalization, which I think would have totally ruined the hip, synthetic tone on display. In terms of adding some more variety, I would have loved to hear a couple Rock arrangements thrown into the mix. The last two tracks - powerful and distinct enough to close out this pleasant album; “Hold Her” is about the closest thing to a romantic love making ballad, but the lyrics concern themselves with asking God to watch over your woman while you’re gone. The earthly romance is intact while the power of Faith is respected, because one of the most powerful signs of love that you can give your partner is to include them in your deepest prayers. That is some of the realest ‘ish’ right there. You can’t fake that kind of love, because you’re praying to God after-all – and I feel that is a conversation that can’t help but be genuine every time. One of my favorite sounding tracks finishes the experience – “Pioneers”, a retro vaporware type ballad with a sexy romantic electronic beat and lovely echoing keyboard chords that wash over you along with the ethereal voices of the Smallbone brothers with their respective wives and guest singers Moriah & Courtney. As an answer to the high divorce rate figures, the song asks of couples to be pioneers of commitment, recognizing that it is not an easy task to change the statistics, and therefore, remembering the magic of what brought you together and the vows you promised to uphold, which becomes paramount in a married partnership.

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For King & Country, stylized as for KING & COUNTRY and formerly known as Joel & Luke as well as Austoville, is a Christian pop duo composed of Australian brothers Joel (born 5 June 1984) and Luke Smallbone (born 22 October 1986). The Nashville-based brothers' 2012 debut record Crave has received praise, and the brothers were declared by Billboard as one of the "New Artists to Watch" for 2012. American Songwriter described them as "Australia's answer to Coldplay".
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