Sound: People seem to equate church and Christian music with an "everybody clap your hands" gospel (southern or black variety) vibe. It's true that a lot of churches play that, but when you put in a Hillsong United disc the sound will always be way different than that. They've made a few changes to the style lately and this is an older disc, but from a sound standpoint it is a straight indie rock and alternative vibe. You'll hear twangy distortion lines, jangly overdriven barre chords, Vox-style tones with delay and reverb, and fuzzy rhythms and guitar lines. I can't really state that a particular guitar riff or chord progression sounds "Christian", but I suppose the occasional slow songs with acoustic strumming and shoegaze flavored electric guitar count since numerous bands have picked up on it lately. The overall sound of the whole album is largely U2-influenced with modern indie and alternative flavors. I don't hear any special playing in the drums, keys, or bass but they provide a catchy rhythm section that works with the music and doesn't take away from it.
The most important factor for this album is that it is a studio album. Unlike past and future recordings, it wasn't recorded live at a church service or conference. This imparts a clean and more distinct vibe for all the instruments and there is the absence of a noisy room full of thousands of people's celebratory whooping or singing along. You will also hear static and strange ambient noises throughout the album, most notably between For Those Who Are To Come (Selah*) and Solution. I feel they add a nice tone and add to the mood of the music. // 8
Lyrics: I will be honest and admit that I am biased since I am an obnoxiously unashamed and proud Christian, so I that imparts a big reason I like the lyrics. Let's be real though, unless you are open minded or a believer like myself, I feel you will not like the lyrics. They are largely worshipful lyrics or promising of personal devotion to God. Although, the opening verse and the second verse of Solution, "It is not a human right to stand not fight while broken nations dream. Open up our eyes so blind that we might find the mercy for the need. It is not too far a cry, too much to try to help the least of these. Politics will not decide if we should rise and be Your hands and feet." would probably resonate with most people to inspire helping less fortunate and being more loving.
I do feel like the worshipful lyrics are presented in not just a generic manner, but that they manage to be heartfelt while still rising above the "God is holy, hallelujah" vein of lyrics that can be abundant in contemporary worship and Christian music. Lyrics such as, "You crossed the great divide. You took our place. You offered up Your life, though we had failed. The veil was torn and love remade." are thought provoking yet still convey the same idea of worship.
Like I said, these are lyrics for Christians or open minded individuals. It might not stop you from getting something out of them though. The singing isn't groundbreaking, especially in the men who sing, but it is decent and in tune singing. A successful folk/pop solo artist named Brooke Ligertwood (then Brooke Fraser) who wrote some of the songs and provides some of the lead vocals is a standout as far as vocals go. She provides very wistful and dreamy lead vocals for a couple slow or semi-slow songs. // 8
Overall Impression: If was comparing it to an artist I would liken some of the guitar lines to U2, but there is a wider range of sounds that they seem to draw from as well. Some of the more driving and fuzzy lines and tubescreamer snarl could be compared to less saturated Muse and older The Killers tones. Perhaps not necessarily the style but the way the tones are presented can sound similar. There are also a lot of shoegaze and clean dream pop tinged sounds on here. I guess if you tried really hard you could come up with a long list of who it compares to, but it ultimately sounds like U2 influenced alternative rock. Some of the more impressive songs to me are Break Free, Lead Me To The Cross, Hosanna, Solution, My Future Decided, and Savior King. I like the upbeat indie rock and dreamy shoegaze moments on the disc. I do dislike how the latter end of the album sort of starts to lag compared to the energy of the beginning, but it has a strong finish. I doubt it would get lost, but it's a worthy part of my Christian music library if the music were lost, stolen, or erased. It's nothing groundbreaking, but it's solid faith based music for those that crave something more interesting than comping on a funky organ groove and clap your hands music. Perhaps we're seeing a good addition to a modern church's set? // 8