Acclaimed singer/songwriter John Mark McMillan is gearing up for the independent release of his fourth studio album titled Borderland after a successful Kickstarter campaign.
"Borderland speaks to the idea of the 'place between places,'" says McMillan, "which is where I feel I've been living as a person, as an artist, and as a believer for a couple of years. While few things describe the Christian experience more than the 'place between places,' it is also a concept everyone can relate to. We all walk lines between work and family, love and responsibility, art and commerce, passion and business and so on. Many of these songs are my commentary from a life between the crevices and on the verge."
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John Mark McMillan established his indelible mark on the contemporary church worldwide as the original writer of "How He Loves," a song David Crowder*Band popularized and made one of the most influential and widely-known worship songs of the past decade.
That same raw, earnest, poetic songwriting (also characterizing setlist staples "Skeleton Bones" and "Death in His Grave") reaches breathtaking new levels of intensity on his latest release, Borderland.
Singles "Love At the End" and "Future/Past" were received with deep enthusiasm long before the full album's release. "Love At the End" is a beautiful folk-vibing declaration of the complete lack of ultimate power death and despair have on the hearts of the redeemed. "Future/Past" is unashamed worship of our eternal God, offering deeply rich imagery to express adoration.
The album's title is explained in the dark title track and the melodically stripped-back "Monsters Talk." Both express the human tendency to linger on the fringes in the dark, even when the light is in sight. This tension of the heart's darkness meeting its deep desire for God carries the album thematically. This tension is also expressed in sonic tensions between deep, moody percussion and airy choral vocals.
McMillan truly seems to have achieved a rare and precarious balance in multiple areas, including weighing musical originality and experimentation against rock-solid theological grounding. Opening track "Holy Ghost" is a good example of this, the chorus proving instantly accessible while also referencing some of the oldest doctrinal concepts and images tied to the Spirit: "dead in the water like lamb to the slaughter if the wind doesn't sing her song / I'm speaking in tongues ‘cause I need a Holy Ghost."
Similarly, "Silver Shore" draws on the Old Testament story of Daniel, "Monsters Talk" heavily employs Romans 7, and "Heart Runs" references Jonah and Psalm 47. Although pleasing to the ear, this is not an album that sings intellect to sleep. The truths presented are engaging enough to satisfy a truth-craving emerging generation while finding their footing in centuries of Church tradition and thought.
These songs could easily find their way into the modern-day liturgy of the contemporary church. "Future/Past" is an obvious pick for that kind of usage, but "Heart Runs" could be equally (if not more) powerful in the corporate setting. This track explores the longing characterizing the Christ-follower's life with strikingly earnest and beautiful words recognizing our Lord as our Everything. This leads nicely into album closer "Visceral," which describes the tumultuous, often violent struggles that birth us into the Kingdom of Heaven.
John Mark McMillan's latest is an exquisite blend of indie and church music sensibilities, vibing with folk trends one moment and reverent choral traditions the next without ever feeling like it leans too heavily on convention. This is some of the strongest songwriting heard on a worship-oriented project in the last decade, always prayerful in posture but consistently, viscerally honest. Every single sentence of each song is worth being marked and mulled over on repeat listens. A David-like wrestling with human flaws and divine grace mark this album with a kind of living poetry rarely found in contemporary songwriting.
For indie fans who have despaired of finding a project with a beating heart at its core instead of cold intellectual cynicism and for worship fans who have been craving something a little different musically: this album is for you, and it's not to be missed.
Song to Download Now:
"Future/Past" (Get it on iTunes here.)
Listening to the Borderland| Posted March 07, 2014
I bought this CD on preorder because of the two single releases of "Love at the End" and "Future / Past" really excited me. I especially like the music video for Future / Past and when I read the lyrics along with the music, I felt the Holy Spirit move in me to declare my dependence on the Lord God once again.
I've listened to this album at least 4 or 5 times now. At first listen, I was slight disappointed in McMillan's Borderland. I wanted more. I wanted more of the metallic and electronica sounds, more upbeat rhythms, etc. But as I listened through the songs and caught on to more of the lyrics, I couldn't help but sing along and really start to enjoy the songs that at first disappointed me.
I'll highlight my favorites...the singles that came out before this album are great songs, and definitely the better songs on the album. I prefer Future / Past to Love at the End, but I can listen to both of these songs multiple times. Buy them!
Next has to be Borderland, my definite favorite song on the album. I love the upbeat metallic and almost cowboy sounds of this song. This song is the most creatively produced in my opinion. The theme of the lyrics refer to the roughness and the bluntness of this world. We work to survive and life is hard. I love the song, and I hope you do too.
Holy Ghost and Tongues of Fire are similar songs in their mood and tempo. They both are more worshipful and slower. Heart Runs is has a chorus that really puts a burden on my heart to pray Psalm 42:1, "As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God."
My next favorite song on the album is Visceral. It is a catchy song that gets stuck in your head easily. You can help but humming "Cinder and stone (brick and mortar)" while listening to this song.
You have to enjoy the saxophone on the song on Monsters Talk, which has similar themes to the Borderland song. That only leaves Guns / Napoleon, Silver Shore, and Counting On. Each are good songs, but unfortunately they did not make my highlights from Borderland. I would recommend buying this entire album. Enjoy!