Music Monday – Jesus Culture’s Let It Echo

let it echo logoGoing into this review, I had only ever heard terrible things about Jesus Culture.  I admit, however, that I had never actually heard any of their music.  As I’ve repeatedly stated, I simply don’t listen to much Christian Music.  If I hit the lottery I’d probably buy K-Love… and shut it down.  Every musical genre is in the grip of the American Capitalistic system, but none seems to exist for it quite like the Christian Music Industry™.

So, when I pick up an album from a band I haven’t heard before, from a band whose bad reputation precedes it, my expectations are low.  I expect a band with third grade theology and average musical talent that sounds like everyone else to be making it “big time” because they have a certain sound, or a certain look.  And, more or less, that’s what I found in Jesus Culture.  It wasn’t unlistenable, in fact some of it was decent, but it certainly wasn’t Mozart meets Luther (which, by the way, would make a cool band name).

Jesus Culture is an off-shoot of the wholly terrible Bethel “Church” in Redding California.  They have adopted the increasingly popular model of not having a core band, but rather being a catch all name for a conglomerate of musicians.  They claim to have been doing music for 20 years as a conglomerate.  I won’t dispute the number, but I can say they’ve only been putting out major label albums since 2009.

Let’s discuss the monstrosity that is Bethel Church.  Led by the false teacher Bill Johnson, who recently was compared to Jesus by some of his followers, they held a prayer meeting for an honest to goodness pagan witch and…. encouraged her.  Read the disgusting article here.  Two words:  prophetic painting.  *shudder*  Oh, and if you have a spare $400 to throw away on utterly un-Biblical nonsense, go ahead and pick up a thumb drive of Bill Johnson’s heretical rants.  (side note:  The Strange Fire conference may one day be regarded as one of the most important moments in Christian History)

So, suffice to say, I don’t have much hope for a band that is a ministry of a false church, under the direct influence of false teachers, owned by a label designed to earn money for said false church, and made up of people who willingly and gleefully sit under such false teaching.  None the less… deep breaths, dear readers… once more into the breach, once more!

Track by Track

Never Gonna Stop Singing

Light, chipper, electric guitar.  A female lead voice who I believe is Kim Walker-Smith (their hyphenated named superstar).  It’s a fast moving song, that’s for sure.  The upbeat tempo is set against verses filled with longer whole notes which become shorter as it approaches the chorus; a chorus which finally catches up to the tempo of the rest of the band.  They know how to build tension and really make the chorus bang out, that’s for sure.  Their drummer has some real talent, setting the pace and tone of the song but also lending his part to building tension, mood, energy.  Good stuff, musically.  Lyrically, I can’t complain much.  None of the wretched theology of the church they’re from bleeds through here, but the man-centeredness does make an appearance.  This song is about them, not God.  Consider the chorus:

We’re gonna lift You higher, higher
Hearts burning bright like a fire, fire
Voices unite; make it louder, louder
We’re never gonna stop the singing
We’re never gonna stop the singing

It’s all about them.  But, I can’t come down too hard on Bethel for that.  The sad truth is that lyrics like this are part and parcel of the Christian Music Industry™.  So too is the rock concert finish for this song with the nonsense improvised lyrics at the end.  Please, Christian Music, stop.  Overall, it’s not a bad start to the album.  I like the song, I don’t love it.

Fierce

Once again, I kinda love the music.  They’re talented and they understand how to use a song to build to a chorus.  It does what music should do: help to associate your emotions with what is being said.   Also, their songs sound different from one another.  They don’t have one sound, or one song, which indicates some depth of talent.  They make good use of arrangements too.  This band is about every member, not a support system for one superstar.  I like that.  Lyrically… meh.  Again, it’s not awful, but it sure isn’t great.  The man-centeredness continues to grow.  Sure, they’re talking about God’s “fierce” (I dunno) love, but it’s all in how it relates to them.  What they know, what they’ve learned, what they’ve discovered, etc.  God is so much more, so much bigger, than what we’ve encountered as individuals.  I wish more people would realize that.  Look at the bridge to this song…

You surround me
You chase me down
You seek me out
How can I be lost
When You have called me found
You chase me down
You seek me out
How can I be lost
When You have called me found
You chase me down
You seek me out
How can I be lost
When You have called me found

All.  About.  Them.

Alive In You

Picking up a certain late 80s, Phil Collins vibe here.  The synth/drum interplay is probably the culprit there.  Their drummer is really good.  Starting to notice a pattern to their song writing.  It’s ABC rock: Lyric, Chorus, Lyric, Chorus, Bridge.  Oh well, they’re not the first I suppose.  The piano was nice on this song, not particularly amazing, but it was used well.  I don’t like Kim-Walker-Smith’s voice on this one, and think the song is out of her range on the low end.  She’s not singing to her strengths.   The lyrics had potential here, even with a bit of the man-centeredness showing through.  Unfortunately, we get our first glimpse at the “Charismania” in the chorus.  God may be the breath of life, but you don’t breath Him in.  Good grief.  Other than that, I think I could sing this song without any problems.  The bridge was particularly nice:

It’s no longer I who live, but Christ
Who lives within me, Christ who lives within me
From beginning to the end You deserve the glory
You deserve the glory

In The River

Oh, boy.  Here we go.  We’re about to be washed over with “the river” and drown or something.  (Pro tip: Any church with the name “River” in it referring to God is going to be a waste of your time).

Not sure what they’re doing with the music here.  It’s a base (not bass) song… driving drums and not much else going on besides a synth player who had too much sugar.  It’s all about drums and the same excited synth riff behind Kim-Walker-Smith’s nearly shouted platitudes about drowning, tides, and bursting through stuff (like prison doors) all in an effort to “come alive in the river”.

Let me tell you what’s going on here.  Every Charismania church has this song in their repertoire.  It’s the one they play in the middle of their set to get you all excited.  People will clap and shout, the banner team will wave their banners, the dance ministry will probably have choreographed dance moves they’ll try to teach you, the bass will pump, it’ll get you out of your seat, and we’ll get all excited for Jesus and babbling in an incomprehensible language… or something.  THIS… is that song.  And it’s always used to lead you into the “low and slow” emotionally charged think piece about Jesus (?) that is sure to have a few tears a-flowin’ in the audience.

Jesus-Culture-Band

Let it Echo

Oh look!  A  “low and slow” emotionally charged think piece about Jesus.  I’m sure that was just a coincidence.  Chris Quilala and a bass player make an appearance.  This song is everything you think of when you picture “that song” in a church where they only turn on the blue stage lights and lead with a piano.  As music goes, it’s fine.  It’s just generic and uninspiring.  Lyrically… this is word and thought salad.  Just a bunch of incoherent Charismania catch phrases.  We’re tasting God’s glory, we’re standing on horizons, we’re letting “it” echo, we’re letting the windows of heaven open up rain or something… it’s a mess.  One thing I’ll note is that Charismania is all about giving God permission.  Just listen to their prayers once in a while “God we just give you permission to use us blah blah blah”  Like God asked you.  Oh course about the only thing God is doing is longing for His children.

I observe that songs like this do little to dispel the myth that the God of Charismania is weak and feeble God, driven by His emotions He’s powerless to satisfy.  The gospel of Charismania has little to do with salvation from sin (something I’ve heard nothing about so far in this album) and everything to do with us rescuing God and doing enough to help him out.  For instance, here, we have to be sure to fill the earth with praise and echo in the cities or whatever.  It’s all about us, and it’s all about our works.  At its core, Charismania is works righteous.

I also observe that songs like this do very little to dispel the myth that Charismania writes repetitive, emotionally laden, substance-less music designed to make you feel goosebumps and little else.  I write that line LITERALLY as he sings “ooooohhhhh oooooooohhhh ooooohhhhh ooooohhhhh Let heaven faaaaalllllllll” for what might be the 47th time (I lost count).

HOT.  GARBAGE.

God With Us

Again, credit to them for musical talent and for varying their arrangements.  They have some depth there.  Also, bravo for writing a song that isn’t all about you, but is rather actually about God.  The chorus returns to the man-centeredness, but it is balanced by the lyrics that aren’t man-centered.    Honest to goodness, this is a pretty good song.  They seem to write some basic decent theology, exalt God, and give Him glory.  Well done!  It gets a bit repetitive in the end, but it’s not awful.  I enjoyed the guitar here too.

Miracles

I’ll pause for a moment to acknowledge the heartfelt and touching story told be the lead singer (I believe  Chris Quilala) before this song.  He and his wife lost their son.  I can’t even imagine how hard that had to be.  May he and his wife find comfort and healing in the arms of the Lord.

A TREMENDOUS arpeggio on Piano to open this song.  Wow!  Great stuff.  This song has excellent balance.  The piano lead plays well with the synth pad, the drums are just enough, the acoustic guitar is well done, and it all gives a nice platform for the lead singer who pulls it off well.  Again and again they force you to sit up and notice their musical talent.   I won’t pick on the lyrics.  A) They’re not terrible and B) It’s clear the song was part of healing from the hurt of losing his son.

Not sure that should be a worship tune, but let’s just move on.

Set Me Ablaze

Deep breaths, folks, it’s about to get weird.

The synth seems to be stuck in the 80s.  A little Boy George, a little steel drum.  The music is basically drums and synth gluing together enough to give Katie Torwalt something to sing to.  Lyrics… oh boy.  If Charismania isn’t about rivers and water, it’s about fire and burning.  Make up your minds, people.  She repeats the words “set me ablaze, set me ablaze” so many times that the words begin to lose meaning.  Weirder still is asking God to “breathe on the coals of my heart” which is answered by “may Your fire start”.  Uhhhh… Oh…. Kay?

I get it, you want to be on fire for Jesus.  But can we please, just once, try to put that desire into words that aren’t some euphemism?  Can we please, Christian Music Industry™, try just once to define what that means?  Not just say it, but actually drill down to the core of what it means to BE on fire?

Everything and Nothing Less

Again, I like the music.  They’re good at setting a mood and a tone for a song.  New lead sing named Chris McClarney, and he’s terrible.  If you’re going to sing, annunciate; don’t just make sounds into a microphone that vaguely sound like a language.  Oh… wait.. we’re a Bethel here… never mind.  Their synth player is a child of the 80s.  I could almost see the slow disco ball and big hair on him/her.  It literally sounds like he/she just walked out of a grainy MTV video.

Lyrics… well, not bad I guess.  The main thrust of the song (repeated approx 115 times) is “I surrender all”.  I kind of wish they just would have covered… wait for it… “I Surrender All”.  I’ll not go cage-stage on them and criticize the idea of US giving God something in salvation.  If you hear the song in the idea of wanting to give up yourself and submit to God (which, fairly, is probably the motivation behind the song) then it makes sense.  It may not be particularly brilliant, but it’s ok.  The song feels like it’s 19 minutes long; it’s the definition of 7/11 church music.

In Your Presence

That Phil Collins feel (PHIL!) is back.  The electric drums plus the 80s synth will do that for you.  The drummer continues to impress, and Kim-Walker-Smith-Hyphen has a nice voice.  Cool effects on the synth toward the end.  THEY ACTUALLY MENTIONED SIN!!!  I thought they would make it the entire album, but lo and behold:

This room is alive in Your majesty
Our sin it revived in Your mercy
Your Son glorified, our arms open wide singing,
‘Worthy! You are worthy!’

Not real sure why sin is being revived.  More word salad, I guess.   They also love the image of prison doors coming down.  It’s become tiresome to pick apart the meaningless platitudes.  Let’s just move on.

I Stand In Awe

Chris Quilala is back and so is Phil Collins’ band.  There’s a guitarist in the band.  Good to know.  A slow and soaring song, which I’m sure is supposed to make you think and ponder what is going on.  That’s great if your worship is just an emotional ride, but if your mind is at all engaged, you’re completely bored by the song toward the end.  Can’t fault the lyrics much, but they’re not exactly going to make history either.

jesusculturelive

Power In the Cross

Oh thank God, the album is almost over.  LOOK!  THEY ACTUALLY MENTION THE CROSS!!!  I, frankly, am shocked.  If you listen to this album you think Christianity is all about rivers and blazes and being in awe and big spiritual sounding empty platitude stuff.  But hey, maybe there might be some doctrine or something.  After all, here we are… a cross.  They more or less miss the point of the cross, but at least it’s there… I guess.  I learned by listening to this song that the cross has power and that it’s strong enough to save.  Why?  Who knows?  Frankly, guys, I’m just shocked to learn that there’s a cross in their version of Christianity.  But yep… they have one.  Just like the Catholics.  *sigh*.

The Verdict

The only thing saving this album from a one star conclusion is that I can’t deny their musical abilities.  They’ve managed to assemble a talented pack of musicians… and completely wasted their talent.  I have no idea if they’re actually Christians and so, when reflecting on this album, I find myself praying they get saved and God can use their talent to further the Gospel.  It would be great if that was all that mattered.  But, it’s not.  This band is undeniably sold out to Charismania.  Their music reflects it, their lyrics reflect it, and that can’t be ignored.  Don’t buy this album, don’t support Bethel, and pray for Jesus Culture to come to realize what is actual Christianity.

2stars

2 Stars

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