It’s a shame that most associations with so-called worship music conjure images of vapid, repetitive pop buried under layers of reverb. There were points in history where believers were key players in areas of science and art; these days, it seems, from the most public angle, that the Christian’s best creative offering is purely derivative.
Nicholas D’Andrea’s newest release thankfully breaks this convention. There are familiar elements as there would be for any artist – but there aren’t many praise albums that borrow equally from Bob Dylan and Jon Foreman. Switch the lyrical content and you’ve got something close to 90s rock with a bit of psych influence. Equally Dylanesque are D’Andrea’s lyrics and vocals, image-heavy sentiments delivered with a bit of grit and even a sprinkle of messiness that hearkens to the era where listeners weren’t looking for perfection.
But that’s not to suggest there’s anything sloppy here. Rather, it’s humanity on display. Like aforementioned Jon Foreman’s own “Instead of a Show” reminds us, God is not impressed by appearances. Yes, worship should be organized – but it should not feel like a production. D’Andrea brings us praise in a way that’s natural for him. God isn’t afraid of garage rock guitars, gain pedals, or the intermittent slurred word.
But refreshing honesty and novelty enough are not enough to make an album interesting. Thankfully, there’s a lot else at play to hook the listener in. Folk rhythms meet grunge guitars for songs that carry just enough energy without blowing out any speakers. These are upbeat tracks that carry a lot of personality.
The album art reminds me of old vinyl covers and big-tent revivals. And when you consider the guitar solos and angelic choir vocals, it’s easy to see the confluence of these two worlds. “Your Beloved is Ready” speaks of the marriage of Christ and the Church and has a powerful orchestral close. Contrast that against the roar of the frenetic “Perfect King”. But both of these tracks are strong in their individual ways and never feel at odds with each other.
While this is a worship album of sorts, it’s not quite congregational in some respects – it’s a bit too fast at times, and notions of dying in a cocaine dream might not fly well in a typical church setting. But D’Andrea does present us with an interesting thought experiment – what if there was church music that sounded like this? Retuning hymns has become more popular and I’d be curious to saw what a raw take on “It Is Well” would sound like.
It’s worth noting that D’Andrea has rebuilt his sound and vision from the ground up. Shine Out is leagues away from the synth-pop textures of “Bang Bang”. It would not have been hard to translate over and find some good market impact. But opting for the road less traveled it was makes this release that much more impactful – and more human. I wouldn’t say there are NO gimmicks (synth choir, anyone?) but when used, they’re largely ornamental or add to the existing hype. Shine Out is like a parade – it’s fun and colorful on its own, and you just happen to also get some candy thrown in. It’s celebratory. It’s quirky. It’s a bit unexpected at first, but once you set your expectations aside, it’s a journey worth taking.