The Phantom Tollbooth

Tunnel Vision
Artist: The Channelsurfers
Label: Organic Records
Length: 52:01 minutes / 12 songs
Taking their name in response to a TV-addicted generation, these men pump out a fresh blend of heavy guitar chords, rap, and funk, with a sprinkling of reggae and ska thrown in for good measure.  They REALLY want the kids to like 'em.  

Tim Bushong, formerly of the King's X-ish hard rock band Lovewar, is the guitarist, trombone-player, and background vocalist here.  He's also the producer, so you can be sure that the disc just oozes skilled musicianship and perfect production, total clarity and booming bass tones!  There are more than enough heavy riffs to satisfy rockers, with plenty of pop sensibilities to put a smile on Mom and Pop's face.

A lot of the vocals lean in a rap direction, but it didn't really bother me (I'm no fan of rap).  Jason Brown's a versatile vocalist--on a couple of tracks he sounds like the singer for Cake and on another one, James Brown! Lyrics are openly spiritual and evangelistic, but sung with style.

At first I thought the Channelsurfers were a little too slickly produced and radio-friendly.  I seriously wanted to dislike their trendy sound. But it didn't take long for the incredibly infectious grooves to seize me and win my body over.  We've got a winner for fans of Sugar Ray, 311, Reality Check, and the rest of the new hybrid breed.

By Josh Spencer

Hybrid music that defines easy categorization is all the rage these days regardless of where you look, and the Channelsurfers prove to be one of the best examples of this pseudo-genre in the distinctively Christian music ghetto, and only a wee bit behind the times. Taking some cues from bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Rage Against the Machine, and the Artist Who Was and Now is Again Known as Prince (gasp), they've fashioned an infectious mix of crunchy pop-rock sensibilities with both funky and metal-esque guitar chops. Among their nods to ska, reggae, and old-fashioned rhythm and blues, they even use some jazz guitar licks a la George Benson on one track. The band's particular approach to all of these tunes is via decidedly modern alternative-rock vibes, and the outcome is a potpourri of a wider variety than usual of currently popular styles.

Of particular note on Tunnel Vision is the work of brothers Lance and Jon Hill on drums and bass respectively. Together they create a bottom end that is thick and bumpy enough to keep your toes tapping and booty shaking. All the guitar and trombone parts are deftly handled by Tim Bushong, and Jason Brown is the able lead-vocalist.

Accessible pop, sing-along highlights like "So Far Away" could certainly gain the band more air-time on CCM radio, but many of the songs such as "Like Job" are (gratefully) louder than your average Dove Nominee wannabes. The most fun track of the batch is "Lonely Guy," which features Jason Brown's best James Brown imitation on a number that invokes the Godfather of Soul's funk right on down to trademark phrases like "Ah!" and "Work it!" The song names a number of "lonely guys" from Woody Allen to Pee Wee Herman in a clever collection that also poses the important question, "Tito Jackson -- where is he now?" Regretfully, the spoken word bits at the end of the song seem to suggest that God is a magic cure for loneliness, a point on which prophets and Biblical figures like Jeremiah and Job might beg to differ. Similarly, the other song's lyrics are also too often on the simple side. For example, "Without You," with its plain chorus of "God is right, and I was wrong," may be theologically and experientially correct, but it also lacks ambition. This song does get bonus points, however, for its amusing samples from Sylvester Stallone's first Rocky movie, displaying a sense of humor that pervades the album.

Because the Channelsurfers effortlessly click through musical styles like so many cable TV channels, the resulting album is dogged by too wide a variety. Their sound and inspirations are so widely diverse that the resulting songs occasionally come off feeling scattered. Yet, the Channelsurfers get credit for showing more ambition in their lyrical approach than most bands this ready for CCM radio, which is also evident in their use of clever, and even challenging samples. This fun, fledgling band is on the right track and bound to continue defining their sound into something that truly works best for them. If they stick to it and develop their skills along those lines, they could be headlining in no time.

Steven Stuart Baldwin  (3/8/99)