As churches go, Hillsong is downright awful (See here, here, here, here, here and here). Good grief. What a terrible blight on the Christian landscape. So why even bother picking up their album and listening to it, let alone reviewing it on a Christian Blog?
Well, as I said last time in regards to Vertical Church Band, “While I believe it wise to listen to their music with the knowledge of their background in mind, we should take the music and the lyrics at face value.” Let’s bear that sentiment in mind when we approach Hillsong. Let’s also bear in mind that they have actually made some theologically decent music in the past.
Blind squirrels finding nuts and all that.
The Hillsong Mega-Church Conglomerate™ (or whatever they are) is made up with a number of bands and Hillsong Young and Free is the band that springs from their youth group. Not a band, actually, a label. A label designed, it seems, to allow the younger people in Hillsong a chance to make music too. As they state on their website:
We are a youth ministry by name, but by identity we are a people who have found hope, salvation, joy, forgiveness and a future in Jesus Christ. Our songs are the overflow of our hearts and a reflection of life in Jesus.
Fair enough; and they’ve been doing it for a few years. “This is Living” is the fifth album, fourth in the studio. It’s an EP, actually as it is only 5 songs. Having not heard them before, this was my first impression. Going in to this album, I knew none of that background. Essentially, my method for choosing this (and most) Music Mondays is “Oh look, Google Music says this band put out a new release in the “Christian/Gospel” genre and I have sort of heard of them before.” As I look back over this album, and knowing the background of what the “Young and Free” division of The Hillsong Mega-Church Conglomerate™ is, it makes total sense because this album is, in a word, sophomoric.
Track by Track
1) This is Living – Pure bubblegum electronica to kick off an album that will be full of it. The problem with electronica is that it always sounds so empty. There’s a reason that, despite tremendous advances in technology, people still listen to instruments created hundreds of years ago. They sound more real. Organic. This song is a perfect example of it.
A WORLD of difference, huh? One draws your attention to the words and blends the sounds as a platform for you to focus on the songwriting. The other is a manufactured in your face experience meant to elicit emotions and get your heart pumping. Which, if you’re trying to promote a particular message, fits better? See what I mean?
A whole bunch of noise is what the music is here. Pounding, driving drums that never really vary which give you the feel you’re in a club. Synthesized chords that resemble nothing but a synthesizer as the lead. It all meshes together into nothing but a wall of noise. Not good. It’s upbeat and snappy, I’ll give it that. The male lead is uninspiring and pedestrian. Nothing jumps out as being particularly exceptional. The lyrics are nothing spectacular either. It’s your typical Christian Music Industry™ ‘all my dreams are coming true and life is oh so happy now that I have Jesus’. I’ve heard it before and I wish it would stop. Lecrae raps on this song. It adds nothing. I actually think the only reason that part exists was so they could add Lecrae’s name to the song.
2) Energy – A very 80’s electronica sound here, with female lead vocals. Everything about this song sounds like it could have been made in some 14 year old’s bedroom when I was in high school. I think that’s the thing that strikes me most of all… nothing about this entire album strikes me as anything approaching creative. The instrument parts come off largely as canned sound machine clips, the lyrics are uninspiring forced rhymes, the ideas expressed are banal and about an inch deep. It hit me that this is kind of a perfect metaphor for Hillsong. The lyrics of this song don’t do a single thing to make me want to listen to this song again. Which is sad because they were the last hope of me ever wanting to hear this song again. I could make this song up by downloading some clips on the internet and changing Justin Beiber lyrics into spiritual vocabulary. Awful.
3) Pursue – Female lead again. She’s actually not that bad of a singer. She’s not great, but I don’t have a problem with her being a lead. A downtempo song here, and the canned sound machine DJ electronica stuff continues. None of it impresses me. It’s not musical talent to push buttons and piece together loops. I’m not against electronic help in music, but without music, all you have is technology. The song goes on about a minute and a half too long. For an entire album full of songs I just wish would end already, they didn’t do themselves any favors with a pointless coda. That said, this is probably the best song on the album for one reason… the lyrics, which are above average for the rest of the album. At the very least they’re Christ exalting and don’t sound like they’re written by someone trying to describe something they’ve only heard about and never had to rely on.
4) This is Living (Acoustic) – It’s actually a nice song, musically. Mostly because someone actually brought out a guitar and gave me something to listen to. It’s the same song as track 1, which means the same ‘Jesus makes my life skippy’ lyrics, but with… you know… ACTUAL MUSIC. Melodies, harmonies, string instruments that add depth and not just noise; it would be a nice song if someone would bother to write some meaningful lyrics for it. I wish they would have written an acoustic version for Pursue.
5) Sinking Deep – They get away again from the electronica to a piano led track to finish the EP. A very Ani DeFranco/Fiona Apple sound here (although the message is obviously different). When you think of the piano chord structures typically found in that female singer/songwriter style, that’s exactly the sound here. Heard it a million times, nothing new to hear here. It does provide a nice foundation for this song, but it’s ultimately uninspiring and rather trite. It sounds like they found a baritone female vocal to sing this song, which was interesting. She (boy am I hoping that’s a she) has a nice voice and performs well. Sounds like she’s built for the DeFranco/Apple/Sarah MacLachlan genre. Lyrically, it’s deeper than what has become a trend of surface level truisms throughout this album. Nonetheless, the forced rhyming sticks around and she sings downright dumb things like “all fear removed, I breathe you in, I lean into your love. Oh, your love.” Ummmm… ok? It’s an ok song, but nothing to get real excited about.
This is Living sounds like a garage band demo put together by a couple of kids who got together after school before dinner and soccer practice. Every musician has been there; making bad music and learning from it. Unfortunately for these guys they have a big player in the industry that has a distinct track record of lacking discernment (The Hillsong Mega-Church Conglomerate™) backing them and promoting what amounts to a demo tape. They would be best served by playing birthday parties, practicing some more, and refining their art. We would be best served by waiting until the potential musicians come into their own and put out an album worth our time. I would not listen again, I would not buy this album, and I DEFINITELY would not recommend this album to anyone.