I know I’m behind on the indie hipster Christian music scene with this but I finally was able to listen to the album Beautiful Things by Gungor. I’ve never done a music review, ever. And I’m not sure why I feel like doing one for this album in particular. But here we are. Here’s the history:
The first time I ever heard the song “Beautiful Things” was when Robbie Seay Band did a cover of it at NCC’s All-Church Celebration last September (the day before my birthday). The “off” rhythm of the melody (when the first phrase is repeated) caught my attention. That may seem like a small detail but not something you usually hear in Christian/worship music. I digress. I heard the song a few days later as background music at church and linked it to Robbie Seay Band. Someone told me that it was by a band called Gungor. Ok…
A few weeks later my twitter feed was infiltrated with tweets about the Catalyst conference from my church staff. When they came back I heard several people talk about Gungor’s performance, notably how big the sound was was from a seemingly small band and instrumentation.
I had downloaded the song “Beautiful Things” by itself because I had to learn it for worship team. It’s a pretty simple song really. I found that kind of ironic after listening to the whole album (see below).
I finally decided I should download the whole album and get my own dose of Gungor (especially since people were referencing it to me as if there’s no way I wouldn’t know the music, haha). I still didn’t listen to the album until about a week and a half after I downloaded it. When I listen to an album, I like to make sure the environment is such that I am not distracted by anything and won’t get interrupted. I want a pure, clear first impression of the songs. It took a week and half to find that environment.
So. I really like this album. As most people do. But my reasons for liking this album are purely musical. I confess I barely have paid attention to the lyrics at this point. In no particular order, this is why I like this album.
1. You can understand what they’re singing. I know I just said that I haven’t paid attention to the lyrics, but I only mean I haven’t taken the time to study them. I can clearly understand what Michael Gungor and the other vocalists are singing. It’s refreshing. It means you can keep the emotion and tone of your singing the way you want without losing the diction.
2. Banjo. I know the banjo is getting quite a spotlight right now with groups like Mumford & Sons, Arcade Fire (another band that I actually have never heard) and Sufjan Stevens. However, I have always loved the banjo. My brother introduced me to Bela Fleck more than 10 years ago, I remember seeing the clip of Steve Martin on the Muppet Show from the 70’s, I love bluegrass, and hello -> The Rainbow Connection??? I love the sound of the banjo. And I appreciate that it is a HARD instrument to play correctly. (Aside: I have a long list for what I want in a husband, but there are a few things that will bypass everything and catapult the man straight to the top: 1. A British accent. 2. A rich, luscious baritone singing voice. 3. Ability to play the banjo. If you have all three, I’m yours.)
3. Complexity. From the eclectic instrumentation (bells, banjo, hand claps, strings) to the great layering of melodies, harmonies, countermelodies, and especially rhythm, this album is full of immense complexity. This is a welcome change from a lot of the Christian music I’ve heard. I understand that it’s nice to have simple music in the worship context. But I dissect music immediately as I hear it, and it’s nice to have something to “work through” as you listen to it. I love love love when music is complex like this. There are so many creative ways to make music and I think Gungor does a fantastic job.
4. Style. There are so many different styles of music in this album. It’s probably my favorite thing about it. You know someone is a good musician when none of their songs sound exactly the same. Songs in this album remind me of Switchfoot, Ben Folds, The Beatles, MuteMath, Robbie Seay Band, to name a few. And I find that a lot of the songs sound very theatrical, as if you could write a musical around them. I love listening to an album that surprises you.
5. Piano presence. I love how the piano is used in this album. It’s not the normal block chords with a lilting rhythm a la Five for Fighting. Some piano parts are very chord-based. But others are more unique. Even classical sounding at times (which I lurve.) Bravo for making an interesting piano part!
6. Chord Progressions. If you know me well, you know that I geek out over a good chord progression. Chord progressions are to a song as a frame is to a house. I heart Gungor for using a. the iii chord, b. secondary dominants, c. minor keys! (In case you care, my favorite chord progression is I-iii-V of V-vi. (One – minor three – five of five – minor six) You can hear it in Mumford and Sons’ “I Gave You All [it happens right at :55] You’re welcome)
I have no idea if any of this makes sense or a difference to you, but there it is. Took me long enough to hear this album. Nice work Gungor.