The North Star picks up where Commodity left off, continuing David's collaboration with Philip as producer and including new voices as well as old in the collective of musicians that has come to encompass Remedy Drive. Drummer Timmy Jones rejoins the band in studio and Corey Horn continues his seven-year partnership with David on tour as well as in the studio. The album also includes guest appearances by singer-songwriter Rachael Lampa, and rapper Propaganda.
The North Star is rock music in its purest distillation, a return to the unsterilized, authentic roots of Remedy Drive's past. This is not an album of gilded, naive faith. The David of The North Star has seen the darkness that is the inverse to the light he loves, and he knows now--intimately--that for some, hope is a luxury.
"I almost feel like a fraud to have hope," David says, considering his relationship to hope in the context of his nine trips abroad with The Exodus Road. "I don't want to give the impression that I've turned away from hope, but I wrote these songs of hope, freedom, and refuge against a backdrop of war, slavery, and exile. So the hope on The North Star is a bit more guarded and less simplistic than in the past. It's a more informed and more desperate form of hope."
The 12 songs on The North Star can be broken into two categories: songs lamenting war, slavery, and exile, and songs that act as a call for action. Among the laments of war is "Sanctuary," a collaborative song written between David, Philip, and rapper Propaganda. The song begins mournfully, evoking images of refugees escaping Turkey across the Aegean Sea to Greece, and turns into a plea for shelter with fast-driving rhythms and a soul-searching rap from Propaganda on the bridge.
Despite these desires to inspire a change in what we spend our time on--or perhaps in lieu of them--Remedy Drive doesn't claim to have a monopoly on righteousness. "Warlike," the album's heaviest rock track, finds David singing "the war criminal is myself" while searching out why exactly our culture has become so warlike. The song, which was another lyrical collaboration between David and Philip, explores the explores the polarizing politics of the day without being overtly political and features bluesy gang vocals and an instantly classic guitar riff.
Finally, "Sunlight on Her Face" is a self-proclaimed "love song to a prostitute" where Remedy Drive juxtaposes imagery of Mary Magdalene with the reality of life as a sex slave. The song is at once universal and divinely personal: it evokes the image of one girl in captivity while encompassing the suffering of all women trapped in the humiliation and inhumanity of sexual slavery--whether in Brazil, Uganda, Cameroon, or Tennessee. The reprise of "Sunlight on Her Face" is fitting, as this, finally, is the takeaway of Remedy Drive's most original and searching album to date: Where are you? Are you helping the refugees, the exiles, the slaves? Where do you fit into this abolitionist's anthem, these songs of freedom fighters in their joy and in their hopelessness? Have you joined the fight?
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Fiery-Eyed Redemption Songs| Posted January 11, 2018
In 2014, Remedy Drive initiated a profound shift in their purpose. With the release of Commodity, the newly-independent band became a vehicle for justice in partnership with counter-trafficking organization The Exodus Road. Remedy Drive's revenue became a fundraiser, their lead singer David Zach became a frontlines operative and the songs became the soundtrack for a movement.
The North Star is the second installment of this chapter of Remedy Drive's legacy, with many of the songs conceived in the heart of the battle for justice in Southeast Asia. Over the three and a half years since the release of Commodity, Remedy Drive's activism model and outlook have been refined through on-the-ground experience. The resulting collection of 12 songs could be summed up by the increasing realization that justice is always intersectional. Racism, sexism, violent nationalism and dangerous perversions of religion always walk hand in hand, and The North Star seeks to navigate these interconnected battlefields.
The scene is set with "You've Got Fire," a song breathing on the sparks of hope, fanning them to flame: "you've got fire running through your veins / don't let it die out, don't let it die out." The strong female vocal on the bridge is a new element for a Remedy Drive song, a very welcome addition given that many of the stories this album is telling are centered around women. "Polaris" is another example of a song carrying this thread of urgency, speaking specifically to everyday activists: "you use your pen when you don't have a sword / you've got your fingertips on the keyboard / you've got the sphere of your influence / nobody else has got your fingerprints."
Those broader themes work themselves out in specifics. "Sanctuary" tells the stories of refugees caught in crisis, serving as a lament and a plea. Propaganda offers an exceptional challenge in the interlude, spitting "I just need Christ personified, not commodified / the one that died, the brown-eyed one that's acquainted with my suffering." "Warlike" challenges the norm of aggressive nationalism and trigger-happy Western culture with a beautifully gritty rock and roll texture that plays like a classic U2 tune. The searingly poignant "Sunlight On Her Face" is a self-proclaimed "love song for a prostitute," telling the story of the countless girls trapped in the cycle of trafficking and abuse. A version of this song with the added voice of a cello closes the album.
Musically, this album continues the trend of being sonically influenced by the countries where the band's activism is centered, but it also digs deep into an assertive individuality that is quintessentially rock and roll. David Zach drew on the talents of his brother and former Remedy Drive member Philip Zach to assist in producing the project, and the result feels handmade in the best way, as if every guitar riff and vocal run was the product of personal sweat and blood. Even the stunning synth line in anthemic "Endless" or the softer electronic bed supporting "Redemption Song" feel organic.
Many listeners will be eager to ask what exactly The North Star refers to. These songs echo the Old Testament prophets in their use of imagery and steadfast resolve to bring into focus the blinding light of a God in whom lies a fierce passion for justice for the downtrodden and redemption of the broken. The presence of God is portrayed as manifest in the actions of His people. "Disappear" hones in on a simple plea for both the oppressed and the rescuers, the freedom fighters on mission worldwide: "don't hide Your face, I need to know You're here, and all the rest can disappear / Now more than ever, I need to feel You near, and all the rest can disappear."
The Bottom Line: With The North Star, Remedy Drive gives the concepts of redemption and justice skin and bones. The songs are sonically confident rock and roll tracks urging listeners on toward a gospel that moves, that takes the hand and meets the eyes of the oppressed without looking away.
For Fans Of: Switchfoot, U2, CIVILIAN
Song to Download Now:
"You've Got Fire" (Get it on iTunes here.)