This is the most eclectic release from The Brilliance yet and long may that continue. But more of it next time, please.
Time: 11 Tracks / 34 minutes
The Brilliance (David Gungor and John Arndt) made quite an impact with their earliest albums Brother and All is not Lost, which were full of good tunes and refreshing in their sonic simplicity; a little liturgical, like an alt-Taizé. This is the second of their ‘suites’ – theme-based releases, the first of which was a short, piano-based set, made in collaboration with World Vision and themed around the plight and hopes of America’s DACA Dreamers.
This one’s sub-title, ‘An Antidote to Modern Anxiety,’ seems appropriate, as Covid-19 raises stress levels around the world.
However, I’m not sure that it greatly works lyrically in removing stress. I never expected to say this about anyone, but I think their lyrics were actually stronger when signed to Integrity than they are here. They have no problem identifying with those whose foundations are being rocked, whether it’s in a 9/11 way, or the basis of their faith being shaken. They plea for the foundation of a sure, simple faith in “I Wanna Feel.” But it is harder to see where they offer an antidote – save for encouraging us to love one another, as they have done so well before.
When the Biola University Chorale perform the slow, elegant à capella “I Shall Not Fear,” they sing, somewhat ambiguously,
“When the armor of God grows too heavy for peace,
Give me doubt, give me doubt.
What be my courage now, my shield from evil?
Love be my courage now. I shall not fear.”
The nearest they get is “Holding On,” where they sing, “I’m holding on to you, ‘cause everything I know tells me this is true; I can’t do this alone.” Or is the lyric aimed 'horizontally' at a person or rather than 'vertically' to God?
The key may be in the title track, where they sing, “When fear becomes violence I’m drowning in the silence / Sliding back to certainty and indifference / I wanna hear the song of peace / Would you sing it over me / Can you help me to speak though I stutter?”
It sounds to me like they are caught up in the frustration of living in a polarised culture, feeling pulled between the ’certainty’ of a callous religious right or the vague flimsiness of the religious left, whereas true Christlikeness is in the middle: a sure foundation that does offer an antidote to stress, but with fuzzy edges that allow for the mystery of God and an openness where loving disagreement can happen.
However, musically, they have both kept their identity and broadened it. They call this a “classically-inspired... emotional journey toward the discovery of our need for each other... Suite No. 2 features full orchestra and choir, and a sprawling, eclectic sound, with diverse sonic influences from Bach and Stravinsky to Jon Brion and The Beatles.”
I concur. Three of these inspirations are very clear to hear. The Bach-influenced “Must Admit” sounds like John Lennon covering “Whiter Shade of Pale.” The excellent, somewhat psychedelic title track has both a Beatles-like tune and a fragment of Firebird Suite at the end. (Strangely, it gets cut off at the end, but doesn’t pick up at the start of the album for those playing it on repeat, but it does pick up if you play the track itself on repeat.)
There are again some strong tunes, whether the poppy immediacy of “How Do We Know?” or the bluesy “Facebook,” with a bass running amok to give it a light, low grunginess, and lashings of Theremin taking care of the top end.
Piano is again to the fore, albeit it beautifully cushioned in the chamber orchestra’s warm wrapping. “Moods,” the only instrumental, sounds like an improv around “There is a Green Hill” – but it may just be my imagination.
The duo’s releases are normally quite short, and – at under 34 minutes – this is too. With their first releases, that didn’t matter too much, as you just put it on repeat to keep the mood and relive the tunes. But with the range of styles here, from chamber orchestra and choral to blues-rock, via poppy snatches and more contemporary beats, longer tracks would help it to settle more and make the most of each track. It feels a bit disjointed in places.
If the many wonderful bits were prolonged and the lyrics offered more substantial faith, this could be a 4.5 tock release. Nevertheless, this is again a highly enjoyable and thoughtful album, as accessible as ever and with their appealing distinctive voice. It’s certainly worth investigating.