The Phantom Tollbooth
Future Sounds of Faith - N-Soul Sampler #2
Artist: Various
Label:  N-Soul Records, Inc.
Time: 74:10 / 26 tracks

Ten years ago or so there was no such thing as a Christian rave scene. Christian electronica hadn't been invented yet, and only a handful of bands like Crumbacher and Mad At the World were experimenting with techno sounds, even though mainstream fore-father's like Soft Cell were already a flash in the pan. In fact, Christians didn't dance in the Eighties. Back in those dreadful dark ages putting on your blue suede shoes meant losing your salvation. Besides, some of today's techno artists were just out of diapers, and Nine Inch Nails were only found in hardware stores. Thank God we live in the Nineties.

This sampler, Future Sounds of Faith, really shows how far electronic music has come in the corner of Christendom devoted to contemporary music. N-Soul has an impressive roster of bands and artists experimenting with sounds and beats under the rather broad heading of electronic music. If you like music produced by synthetic, computerized, technologically advanced wizardry, than this is a perfect smorgasbord of songs for you to sample. The variety of styles is fairly wide, ranging from gospel-laden R&B house mixes to trance, rave, techno, and back to electronic pop. All twenty-five songs (and 1 radio spot) are mixed together seamlessly in a continuous mix, segueing from one song right into another just like the work of a good disc jockey. Every track has a good beat, and, yes, you can dance to them. The difference here is that all these songs have overtly Christianized content--the label bills this "Dance music with a message." Slap this disc in, flip on the spinning lights, invite a few friends over, and have yourself a virtual electronica church meeting!

Highlights include Sonik Boom of Love's trio of songs, including "Spirit of Love" (which sounds like a house version of a Prince tune), and the hard house mixes of the Gospel Housing Authority. Maximillian also turns in a collection of interesting numbers, most notably "Deeper than Most". Faith Massive and Cloud2Ground offers some trance and rave vibes that work well, although Cloud2Ground in particular skirts Moby's familiar territory too closely. Nitro Praise Christmas offers a wonderful rendition of  "Oh Holy Night," which doesn't seem all that out of place here, and, perhaps best of all, the "Doxology" is given a fresh treatment via Nitro Praise 5. The most aggressive track and my personal favorite is Sozo's turn at euro-dance-pop (via Australia) in "The Walk," which has more variety and avoids the useless repetition plaguing some of the other selections. Even though this song is not that "cutting edge," sounding like a better produced version of something Crumbacher might have cooked up in the Eighties, it's the only one that piques my interest enough to want to hear the rest of their album.

Regrettably, none of these songs really break new ground or offer something as compelling or boundary pushing as the Chemical Brothers, and most of them sound too reminiscent of other artists. There are some real annoyances here too, including Prodigal Son's "Prosperity Tweekers," where the prophetic message might have more effect if it were not for the aggravating, distracting effeminate voice proclaiming, "I can jump," and music which is basically a redundant pattern of scales and beats.

Had this sampler come out back in the eighties, it truly could have been dubbed Future Sounds of Faith. Presently the title seems a bit dubious. Are to we to assume this title means these songs are on the current cutting edge of music? If so, that just isn't accurate. Many of these songs are in forms that bands like Soul 2 Soul and KLF and their offspring were doing years ago. Consequently, this sampler isn't tomorrow's music either, despite speculations that electronica is here to stay. True, it probably isn't going anywhere any time soon, although neither is good old rock and roll. Even though electronica enthusiasts would have you believe this music is the latest thing, the future is still wide open.

Given the very heavy emphasis on encouraging faith-filled lyrics, perhaps the album title suggests these songs represent the future of worship. Now that seems more likely somewhat, but it would be a shame to replace the theologically rich tradition of hymns with these almost mindless grooves. In truth, younger people today find dancing to these tunes worshipful, and that's great! Praise God that He uses everything He can to reach His people. But, due to a lack of any lyrical depth, a greater number of folks will find these songs woefully short on substantial faith encouragements, and little more than an excuse to put a little boogie in the Church. Thank God there's a place for that, too. If a little dancing draws young folk to the gospel, and causes their hearts to overflow with praise and gratitude to our God, than you and I ought to be the first folks to hit the dance floor to these block rockin' beats.

By Steven Stuart Baldwin (11/13/98)