An Electrifying Ascent| Posted February 19, 2016
Is rock dead? That's a debate for another day, but it's certainly true that many rock acts are shedding their bass-heavy breakdowns for electronic-driven synth hooks. The latest album from Nine Lashes, Ascend, finds them too diving into poppier electric sounds.
On the one hand, the change may be a letdown to longtime listeners as the rock from previous albums is almost completely gone here. The band has dabbled in electronic sounds before, but this is pretty much a complete genre-shift in one album. Yet at the same time, the resulting sound is incredibly addicting and high quality. I can't remember the last time an album has simultaneously both disappointed but then exceeded expectations to this degree. But regardless of what it was I wanted from Nine Lashes, these songs satisfy.
Opening track "Heartbeats" is an attention-grabber with a fast chorus and juicy hooks. "Deeper" feels like something Manic Drive would do, and the Nine Lashes guys pull it off with ease. "Eyes on You" is another stunning example of this new electric pop/rock sound that fits like a glove for Nine Lashes. Piano and synth hooks combine with gripping melodies to form an album highlight.
While the vocals and some of the music (lead single "Galaxy" is a great example) still carry the influence of the band's edgier days, it's polished and softened enough that it may drift from many of the band's existing fans while appealing to a whole new market. No strangers to radio ballads, Nine Lashes goes full-on CCM in several of the album's cuts. "The Chosen Ones" is the first of these, with a really great acoustic/piano hook and soothing verses. The chorus is less memorable than the rest of the song, but it's an overall well-rounded cut.
"Glorious" embraces pop praise and worship in the chorus, doing it much better than your average praise and worship act with the music and delivery actually making me believe it. "Stolen" embraces pop chants and sugary beats and choruses, building a sound that would instantly be at home on Air-1. Several other cuts bear this softer approach that is decidedly less rock album than anything the band has done to this point.
This is good stuff for pop/rock fans-- really good. Even the album's less stand-out cuts are superior to most of what's on the radio. The "edgier" pop/rock tunes might not be as easy to headbang to, but they are catchy and danceable and still give the standard Christian rock lyrical meat. Had this been a debut release from a new pop/rock group, this would be unquestionably an overwhelming surprise and an album to really get excited about. And honestly, it is still an album to get excited about, even if I wish it didn't come at the expense of a great rock sound.
The Bottom Line: Any disappointment from rockheads aside, Ascend is a terrific album on its own merit, with energetic hooks and truly great songs.
Song to Download Now:
"Galaxy" (Get it on iTunes here.)