Derek Webb - CTRL ReviewWebb has created a tool for us to use for our spiritual self-improvement.

Artist: Derek Webb
Label: Fair Trade / Columbia
Release Date: September 4, 2012
Duration:  10 tracks, 47:30

For those looking forward to a continuation of Stockholm Syndrome, I would suggest to keep an open mind when initially digesting CTRL. As is typical for Derek Webb, CTRL builds on past offerings while creating something new and different. Webb has never and will never be one to rest on his laurels artistically or spiritually. This is certainly the case with CTRL, which hints at Webb’s previous acoustic offerings while adding Josh Moore’s samples and beats, but strikes a fresh chord by incorporating strikingly new musical posturing and continued lyrical growth. 

Where Webb has had a focused message on social justice and issues with the church in the past, CTRL looks inward. Not only to the author but the listener as well, often taking you to uncomfortable places - dangerously hitting close to home. Here, Webb continues to push the CCM envelope, but in a new and indirect way. As a collective, this is truly an adventure into one’s self, and perhaps more the dark side than anything else. The collections title, CTRL, is very appropriate (CTRL: modifier key which when used with another key will perform a special operation). The more than effective use of an old-school church choir to sometimes lead into, sometime complete, and yet at other times underscore, and highlight various songs brings a new and darker emotion to the self-searching movement that is CTRL

Enter an average choir performing an ancient hymn to set the stage for “And See The Flaming Skies”, the album’s initial offering. Both loud and brash, the choir gives entry to a chilling, apocalyptic-like rendition of the hymn "Idumea". The choir fades to Webb’s vocals and acoustic guitar with a quieting, jazz-like backing rhythm giving the hymn an all new musical flavor while preserving the meaning – an inward journey of life’s desperate searching for an answer to the question of life, death, and what may come after. Finally, the chorus returns with the ending stanza cementing the dark undertones of the lyrics while setting the stage for the album’s story. 

A triad of songs follows, first with a dream-like state of desperation realized for wants and wishes unattainable in both "A City With No Name" and "Can’t Sleep" (listen for the use of the choir underlining the feeling of desperation at song’s end), then a desperate plea for love in "Blocks". Again, the choir, here recorded intentionally in a speed slowing to a crawl, underlines the message. The quiet percussion and acoustic guitar’s meandering rhythm with occasional sampling of horns make this three-some a quiet treat. 

"Pressing On The Bruise" picks up the pace with a rambling melody with lyrics telling of desire and longing.  With a slight return to Syndrome, "Attonitos  Gloria" has synth pop and acoustic upswing with the message of falling to sin with known regret throughout the passage. While "I Feel Everything" gives the continuing impression of desperation growing through the feeling of being unable to change, ‘Reanimate’ provides a 180 telling of redemption – ‘I cannot believe my eyes, I am alive’.
"A Real Ghost" is a beautiful combination of vocals with acoustic guitar. Here is the story of inner peace found in redemption. This is truly a beautiful song possessing the ability to provide an inner healing to the listener. The finale,  "Around Every Corner"  – leaves us with a rocker with heavy beats, choir sampling, and solid acoustic guitar rhythm ending the album’s story line with the excitement of change. 

In comparison to recent releases, CTRL is at times bare bones and languid, yet cutting edge for lyrics and for the placement of samplings used. This is not a collection of social justice related offerings but is an inner discovery of one’s soul. Webb has crossed the labyrinth of songs with a message by providing a story where the listener takes a meaningful, inward journey. Combined with Sola-Mi, his recent collaboration with Josh Moore and Latifah Phillips, the acoustic CTRL concert of fall / winter 2012 followed by the full concert venue planned for 2013 should be an experience not easily forgotten. 

In my recent interview with Webb, he mentioned the genius of Simon & Garfunkel in telling a story through wide reaching lyrics, which can touch a broad audience by leveraging their life experiences. If the listener allows CTRL to flow into and overtake them, they too will have the experience of being touched by looking inward to one’s own self. Like standing up a mirror for each of us to see inside ourselves, he has done what few Christian offerings have managed to do in the past. Webb has created a tool for us to use for our spiritual self-improvement.  Surely, God has long been refining Webb’s gifts to provide this message, this tool.  Long may he work His will.

Scott S Mertens 


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