There's an incredible underground community of hipster Christians in New York City – people who are sophisticated and cosmopolitan while simultaneously spiritual and rooted in the Christian traditions. Although we're looking for something deeper than generic pop music, Nashville-y contemporary Christian music doesn't quite fit us, either. This album is my attempt to express who we are.
The album is roughly based on the liturgical year, the gospel story, and changing of the seasons. It's meant to be a song cycle and, thematically, the last song could also have been the first.
A very eclectic group of musicians worked on this project, although I didn't set outside to mix together so many different styles of music - I'm generally of the opinion that diversity for it's own sake is rather silly. The nature of New York, however, is that many cultures are jam-packed next to each other (it's the only place where you can order Sangria at Chinese restaurants) and it was within this environment that these songs developed. I think it's cool.
The tracks are:
1) Incarnation – this track uses text from the 1st Century Liturgy Of St James, the tune of a 17th Century French Carol, and blends downtempo electronica with middle eastern modes. This tune is a much beloved hymn from several traditions, although it isn't usually done in 7/4. I came up with that myself..
2) Ministration – Mykal brings a great R+B feel to this tune, which is a collaboration between TjSnodgrass and myself.
3) Misconception – Another text from TjSnodgrass, this tune has an intro from Moroccan vocalist and oud player Yoel Ben-Simhon. The Hebrew text is Eliyahu HaNavi, a traditional prayer begging for the return of Elijah and is set in the Arabic mode of khijas. The transition from the intro into the actual tune might be my favorite moment on the album. This song is also notable because it's a fast waltz superimposed over a funky 10/4. Except, of course, for the honky-tonk bridge, which is in four. I included this song because people kept wanting Christ to be Elijah – i.e., being all hardcore with the gentiles, calling down fire from heaven, etc. Even today, people keep trying to turn Christ into a conquering, national symbol, but that's just not what he was about.
4) Preparation – TjSnodgrass read this poem to me during our first phone call years ago, beginning both our collaboration and our friendship. I love the desperation in it, and RC Laird delivers a mind-numbing, bone-crunching vocal rock explosion. I can't believe I just wrote that sentence. It's true, though.
5) Valediction – An incredible poem by Delores Dufner, a sister in the Order of St Benedict, who graciously allowed me to write a new setting for it. Between Katie's gentle flute and Steve's tender finger-picking, this might be the most intimate song on the album.
6) Execution – A metrical version of the 22nd Psalm, written in the 17th Century by Brady and Tate. I wrote this tune for a Palm Sunday service a few years ago, and it's become one of my most well-received songs. The spacey sounds in the background are Steve using a violin bow on his guitar.
7) Lamentation – Giovanni Pergolesi's Stabat Mater is one of my all-time favorite pieces. The traditional Latin text depicts Mary watching the crucifixion, and I love how Pergolesi manages to be emotive and crunchy at the same time. Deanna, who you can hear on Air America Radio, sang this song soaking wet in the middle of a thunderstorm (we had to stop tape every time it thundered). It was magical.
8) Resurrection – Mary and Steve make this 15th Century French Carol rock. I love how it uses nature imagery so effectively, demonstrating that the gospel story, the liturgical year, and the changing seasons are all saying the same thing. This song really can't be listened to quietly.
9) Adoration – If an underground, emergent church band could have a break-away pop hit, this would probably be it. Another French church melody from the 17th Century, the words from this song come from Thomas Aquinas. I really enjoyed stretching out with my jazz chops on this tune.
10) Expectation – Veni, Veni Emmanuel, a 9th Century Latin plainsong, is one of the most overused tunes in existence, yet I still love it. Because it's been done so many times, however, I has a hard time finding a fresh take on it. I ended up mixing the tune with some flute and oboe counterpoint, spending most of the track using the chant as a vehicle for improvisation, and throwing the whole thing over a droning didjeridu. One might expect this song to go at the beginning of the album rather than at the end, but I wanted to emphasize that the world is still a pretty dark, stary place and we're still waiting for deliverance. To me, this song isn't about Advent, it's about right now.
The musicians featured on this album are:
Isaac Everett – piano, keyboards, didjeridu, programming
Yoel Ben-Simhon - oud, vocals (track 3)
Moxie Block - vocals (track 6)
Mary Bragg – vocals (tracks 1, 5, 8, 9, and 10)
Katie Down – flute
Stephen Hoevertsz – electric guitar
RC Laird – vocals (tracks 3 and 4)
Troy Messenger – oboe
Mykal – vocals (track 2)
Deanna Neil – vocals (track 7)
album design and photography by Robert Scott.