Okay, so this is kind of a cheater Music Day post because I can't post any links yet (not even YouTube -- this is so hot off the press YouTube doesn't have it yet). But it's too exciting to not talk about.
Yes, folks -- I have heard the new Daniel Amos album.
Literally two hours after my 'official' Music Day post last week Friday (the 21st), Daniel Amos posted on Facebook that the download link for the Kickstarter supporters was coming soon. I was going to leave it till the next day, but then I saw someone in the comments say that had downloaded it already.
No way... It couldn't be...
I checked my email. Sure enough, there was a download link. Cue the suppressed screaming (it was one in the morning, after all...).
Before I begin, it's worth noting that (for those who missed it), I'm a DA fan as of February of this year. I've had to cram their entire thirty-plus year career into the last five months. Therefore, I don't know everything there is to know about them and their songs (yet). I'm fairly well-acquainted with their eighties stuff, but once we get into the nineties my knowledge drops to almost nothing. I haven't heard Mr Buechner's Dream (their previous album) in its entirety, but I've taken a cursory listening of... probably about half of the songs on it.
I'm dithering. Can you tell I'm dithering? Reviewing something so fantastic is psyching me out because there's no way I'll ever be able to do it justice (to read reviews by better-versed music fans, see the links at the bottom of this post).
Overall -- this thing is amazing and I love it. It sounds like nothing else I've ever heard. Ever. Timeless stuff -- the best there is.
Also, keyboards! Pretty keyboards! Oh man, some of the keyboard work is gorgeous... I'll get into that more when I talk about the specific songs (I'm definitely going to run out of adjectives). In fact, every instrument is spectacular here. One could probably take lessons from these guys just by listening to this album on repeat.
Lyrically, the album talks about death and dying quite a bit, but one of the first impressions I got of the overall album was how hope-filled it is. There just seems to be an air of hope, of quiet rest in God and His plan. (Also, current CCM 'artists' (and I use the term very loosely) -- note that not once does Terry use the words 'don't you know He loves you?' or 'just lean on Him' as if the listener is a complete idiot (though said listener apparently somehow knows the magnitude of God's love, as it's never explained in those songs).)
Forward In Reverse -- The album starts out with a gentle acoustic guitar and then a pretty flutish sound, and then that familiar voice begins singing... a wonderfully poetic list of clichés, flipped backwards and twisted slightly. In the second verse, a horn of some kind comes in, adding a bit of whimsy. As I listen to it again, it inexplicably makes me think of Dr Seuss (don't even try to understand why -- I don't). And I totally love the whooshing sound effect after the second chorus -- a great sonic interpretation of the title.
Jesus Wept -- Oh man... the keyboard melody in the 'let me out... no not yet' bit. The guitar is wonderfully fuzzy (and not overpowering) and I like the drumming. Gorgeous, gorgeous poetic imagery here: I pound against the walls of my aging skin... Who'll untie the ropes that restrain my wings... They mounted up like eagles; now they're dropping like flies... It's kind of odd, hearing melancholy lyrics in such an upbeat song, but it's not without hope: Before He danced, Jesus wept. Speaking as a young adult whose life is in total upheaval right now, I'm very thankful for that reminder.
Dig Here Said The Angel -- Best. Intro. Ever. I think it's backmasking. Whatever it is, it's awesome. And then the bass (I think) comes growling in over the backmasking (I think it's a guitar going backwards -- or perhaps forward in reverse?*). And then they start humming. I'm a sucker for the humming thing, I don't know why. Maybe because it's so rare. I love that he doesn't start singing until the minute and a half mark -- just lets the intro do its thing first. The guitar here is so so cool... the distortion. And in the chorus, the keyboard -- almost sci-fi like, piping, flutish. You know, all that 'sonic' futuristic stuff everybody did in the mid-eighties and early nineties? It's kind of like that. And the harmony in the last chorus -- so pretty. And then they hum it out with some nice deep rolling drum hits before falling back into the backmasking to end the song. Epic song. I could fly on this song.
Our New Testament Best -- Man, the groove... between the bass and Terry's low vocals, your foot will be tapping. And the keyboards after the second chorus... It's the sound of falling rain. Seriously. My heart stops every time. I wish it would last longer, but the fact that it's so fleeting makes it more beautiful when you get to hear it. And then the guitar comes in over the rain sound and then the song kicks up a bit into the chorus repeats.
Love Grace And Mercy -- This one was an instant favourite, as soon as the vocalising started before the first verse. This sounds more like the Terry I'm used to (in the eighties, with the higher voice). Also, my favourite lyric of the entire album is in here: 'Love grace and mercy; They shake me to the core; Lift me higher than a kite then; Leave me crawling on the floor.' So accurate. The mix of fuzzy guitar and bells in the interlude (and later in the ending) absolutely makes the song.
Bit of a heads-up here: There's this one line -- So to hell with my excuses... I don't know if the word hell in that context is really an issue anymore in the age of Facebook where every other post contains the f-word, but it's something to keep in mind if you happen to have young children living in the house or something.
Now That I've Died -- This one surprised me musically. I wasn't expecting something quite that rock-y. (You'd think I'd know better than to judge a song -- especially one with Terry Scott Taylor's fingerprints on it -- by its title.) It's one of the rockiest songs on the album. At first I thought he was talking about dying to self (the Biblical teaching of turning away from evil desires and instead pursuing the things of God), but on reading the lyrics, it also kind of sounds like he's talking as if he were in Heaven, trying to describe it to someone still on earth. I quite enjoy his delivery of the title line, and the line I'm never cynical (but still a little sarcastic) is perhaps the funniest on the album (especially in the context of Terry's past work, like, say, the ¡Alarma! Chronicles or his solo album The Miracle Faith Telethon). I like the ending, when they get into that I've never been more alive/Now that I've died vocal layering. And I like the keyboards in that part too.
We'll All Know Soon Enough -- I'm still microanalysing this song lyrically. Even knowing TST's lyrical bent for sarcasm (but not cynicism, of course...) in all forms, it was quite a shock to my Baptist-raised reformed-theology-nerd-in-training ears to hear the line 'There may be no heaven, no no no; There may be no hell, no...' I think -- I think -- he may be taking the perspective of a person trying to 'use' God to have a comfortable life (á la Angels Tuck You In and New Car!**) and then being disappointed when God doesn't answer his every prayer with a 'yes.' Yet the verses seem so sincere and well-rooted that it's a bit of a stretch to take the chorus (and the line quoted above) as anything less sincere and Biblically accurate. The bass and drum drive of the verses is cool though, and I quite like the effect of the synthesized vocal in the bridge. Listening to that through headphones is so cool -- the vocal comes only through the right speaker, and the sparse instrumentation comes only through the left. Actually, the first time I heard this I found out later I'd had my earbuds mixed up so I heard the vocal through my left ear. I think I now have to switch my earbuds whenever I hear this song because it sounds wrong with the vocal in my right ear.
Waking Up Under Water -- This song doesn't gently ease you into things. It grabs and doesn't let go. It starts with a blasting guitar, and then a driving beat and such an honest lyric -- about trying to escape real life by daydreaming. Lyrically, this could almost have fit on Doppelgänger. The bass is fantastic, just rocks along.
The Uses Of Adversity -- Am I the only one who hears a Newsboys vibe in that guitar bit between the verses? Actually, the Newsboys feel surfaces several times throughout the song. It's a beautiful lyric, though. Very poetic, and lovely, if painful, in its surrender to the supremacy of God (So don't send me rain if I bloom in drought...).
The Ruthless Hum Of Dread -- I think I may forever be calling this one 'The Ruthless Drum of Ed' after that one YouTube video they posted of Ed McTaggert doing drums for this. Very well-orchestrated... sparse instrumentation, soft vocals. It's delivered like a lullaby, only the protagonist can't shake the fears that run through his head as he tries to sleep (...night fears slip in between hissing sheets and springs; And in the folds of my sibilant bed...). The third verse is gorgeous -- the drumming stops, and only the odd piano chord backs the vocals. Some of the imagery in the last verse reminds me of the lyrical content of Terry's solo albums Knowledge & Innocence (1986) and A Briefing For The Ascent (1987). Melancholy but chock-full of wonderful poetic imagery.
The Sun Shines On Everyone -- A bit of an anthem, feeling almost like a reprise more than a closing track. It's already becoming quite a favourite among the DA fans on Facebook, but it drags a bit for me. To be honest I've yet to properly focus on this song from start to finish because of that. The lyrics are nice though. Perhaps it'll grow on me yet.
Honestly, I don't think there's a throwaway lyric on the entire album, and there is nothing, musically, that doesn't feel perfect throughout (though I found the studio applause at the end of the last song cheesy, but that's neither music nor lyric.)
I would have loved to have gone more in-depth with this (I could probably write a thesis on this album), but I will have to click the 'Publish' button in spite of the perfectionist in my mind screaming for me to revise some more, or else this will never get posted. Perhaps at a later date, once I've had more time to listen and memorise and find nuances and simply enjoy it, I'll revisit the album on this blog. But for now, this is what you get, plus a recommendation from yours truly to buy it when it releases later this summer (they gave a tentative date for August). Or at the very least, buy the title track and Love, Grace, And Mercy. After that, the next two you should buy are Jesus Wept and Waking Up Under Water. And after that, you need to just give up and buy the CD.
* I can't even take credit for this pun -- I saw it on the DA Facebook page, though using it to describe backmasking was my idea.
** Both songs from Doppelgänger, 1983.
Other album reviews (as posted by the Daniel Amos Facebook page -- I have no idea what else is on these sites):
More Of Dave
The Phantom Tollbooth
Popdose (includes an interview with Terry Taylor)
Into The Son
Another from Examiner.com
Down The Line Magazine