|Singing a Song to Fill the Void | Posted October 01, 2013
Worship is the cornerstone of Hillsong Church in Australia. Originally called Hills Church, the runaway global popularity of their "Hillsong" albums led to the name change. With pioneers such as Darlene Zschech and Reuben Morgan leading the way, the world church received many of its Sunday anthems by way of Sydney.
But the adults weren't the only ones experiencing a tremendous move of worship. Something special happened when the worship teams of the middle school, high school and college groups from several different campuses converged for special nights of praise. Out of those gatherings, Hillsong UNITED was born.
Now, UNITED's original audience has grown up with them into twenty- and thirtysomethings, and a new youth movement has risen up from the land down under. Hillsong Young & Free carries the same youthful energy and passion as UNITED did in its earlier years, with a sound all its own.
Recorded live in Australia earlier this year, Young & Free's debut album, We Are Young and Free, deploys heavy synths, four-on-the-floor drum beats and some of the best vocals to hit any Hillsong album to date. But deeper than that is an unabashed explosion of praise to Jesus.
The first three songs are a danceable trifecta of awesomeness. "Brighter" immediately greets you with a bouncy bass synth that drives a song that was built for the Aussie kangaroo hop in worship. "Your light is taking over me," resounds the chorus with a powerful female lead vocal. "I find freedom in the light of your love," declares a verse.
Lead single "Alive" follows—a high-tempo, male-fronted song that extols our being made alive in Christ. It's a total earworm whose prechorus will stick in your head all day: "You are, you are, you are, our freedom / We lift you higher, lift you higher." It's pure, synth-laden joy. "You are alive in us / Nothing can take your place / You are all we need / Your love has set us free," the chorus sings. I personally love hearing one of the worship leaders yelling, "Everybody dance!" This is truly celebration.
The songwriting in "Wake" is reminiscent of UNITED's early days, with simple rhymes and verses, fueled by teenage and young adult passion—and a healthy dose of techno riffs in the style of Cascada or And Then There Were None. It's awesome that the Church finally has some dance party music with some worshipful lyrics, such as: "You will never fade away / Tour love is here to stay / By my side all my life / Shining through me every day!"
While the blips, beeps and heavy synth padding continue, the vibe heads in a different direction starting with "Lifeline," an impassioned love song thanking Jesus for His rescue. "Over the horizon is where I look beyond / You're the silver lining breaking through the storm / Jesus you're all I want!" rings a phenomenal, pure female vocal. At the end of the song, simple pad carries the singer as she sings, "And oh, You are my hope / Jesus forever / You forgiven my failures / You are my hope, You never let go."
This begins a deep reverent portion of the album, which more closely aligns with UNITED and Hillsong LIVE—and that's a good thing. What Hillsong has been good at since the beginning is a deep sense of tender praise to Jesus.
Track five, "Close," sounds like it could've been pulled from UNITED's latest album, Zion—musically feeling at home with "Love is War" and "Nothing Like Your Love." A tenor vocal offers, "I want to be close to you / There's nothing in this world that compares to all you are."
Tribal sounding drums announce various attributes of God's love in the bridge of "Love Goes On," as the powerful vocals announce, "Love unfailing, never shaken / Hope awakens in You." This song could easily be a Hillsong LIVE or UNITED song, but the bright electronic elements certainly set it apart as a Young & Free original.
One of the most unique and poetic songs of We Are Young and Free is "Gracious Tempest," a beautiful ballad that compares Christ's love like a storm and waves: "A downpour of unending grace / Consuming all my reckless ways / My sins submerged, your love has saved my soul / Your love is like a storm." A simple electric piano accompanies the vocalist; there are no drums or drum machines here.
"End of Days" goes for the full 1980s sound, with siren-like synths providing a riff up front. This mid-tempo song, which talks about God's invasion into humanity, is very congregation friendly, with easy-to-learn melodies in the verses and chorus. It contains one of my favorite lines on the album: "You authored life and wrote Yourself in / You dwelt in time that You designed / Creator lived in His creation / Completely man completely God." The song ends with a soundtrack-like chant of "oh" at the end that's quite moving.
It's been a while since we partied, so Young & Free eases us back into it with the soothing dance beat and vocals of "Back to Life." Again following the theme of being rescued, this song could easily be ratcheted up to full-dance mode, or toned down into more of a ballad. Young & Free takes the middle road as they sing, "In the night / Through the struggle, through the trial / You have made my burden light / You have brought me back to life again." The amazing vocalist from "Brighter" (and "Wake"?) is back on this one.
All you Justin Timberlake fans out there, don't get too excited by the song title, "In Sync." This is all about aligning our hearts to God's heart. Another mid-tempo dance number, there are a lot of lyrics to this song, but they roll out in a rhythmically interesting and exciting way. "My heart beats to your rhythm now / my lifesong an eternal sound," declares the first verse.
The final two tracks, "Embers" and "Sinking Deep," are piano-driven ballads of praise that mostly steer clear of the synths, as if perhaps to leave listeners with the simplicity of the message that they're trying to convey. On "Embers," that message is that the Holy Spirit has ignited, and continues to ignite, a fire in the hearts of those who love Jesus. On "Sinking Deep," it's the message that the love of God removes fear and shows us what really matters in life.
We Are Young and Free closes out the album with three studio versions of their songs "Alive," "Wake" and "Back to Life." While these studio versions allow the digital instrumentation to fully breathe and resound, they lack the overall energy of the live recordings, and frankly, the vocals are stronger on the live versions—with the exception of "Back to Life," which maintains the same level of vocal intensity. Overall, there's just something about having the live gathering that completely fuels worship music. That said, the studio versions still are nice to have included.
Hillsong Young & Free has stood upon a pretty fantastic foundation laid by Hillsong LIVE and Hillsong UNITED, while still injecting something new into worship music. The band has filled a passionate, youthful void left ever since the UNITED team, well, grew up. The synth arrangements are on par with the best pop groups of our day, with a message that far exceeds theirs.
Kudos to Hillsong Church for trusting their young worship leaders and songwriters with this project. The choruses written here are accessible and singable, yet profound in their innocence. It's a good day when you can pogo praise one moment, and enter tender moments of reverent worship the next. Young & Free leads both sides of the worship experience with an authority beyond their years.
Here's hoping that Young & Free continues to make music that reaches the next generation!
Song to Download Now:
FAST: "Brighter" (Get it on iTunes here
SLOW: "Gracious Tempest" (Get it on iTunes here
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