Coming off of This Is Life -- an album dedicated to paying homage to his musical influences -- Chris Sligh was looking to create something drastically different, something that paid homage to his current influences. Replacing the Bryan Adams and Ben Folds and Tom Pettys and Paul McCartneys that affected This Is Life, on his current playlist were electronic pop and EDM producers and DJs like Max Martin and David Guetta and Calvin Harris.
"I began to explore this whole world of electronic production and found that I really truly loved the creativity I was able to foster by opening up this new world of synth creation," Sligh told us recently.
Many songs would start with dozens (and at times, hundreds) of synth tracks.
"So much of pop music today is influenced by the 80s pop we all love and put through the sieve of EDM and it ends up creating what I feel like is a very cool amalgam of elements that -- for me at least -- allowed for hundreds of hours of creativity. But I also was coming into this place of really beginning to understand and explore guitar tones ... so of course the synth stuff had to be surrounded by a ton of guitars!"
As with every Chris Sligh record, he sells himself and his production to the concept. For This Is Life it was 80s & 90s singer/songwriter rock. For Mighty Roar / Healing Flood it became the amalgamation of 80s pop mixed with the EDM of today with the twist of guitar sounds that so easily identify it with modern worship music.
But the sounds of an album mean nothing if the songs aren't there. Where did the songs come from this time around?
"I was writing for my church at the time. We had made a live worship record that I was really proud of and we were beginning to work on the next one, and so I went into my typical sort of 'write to find the direction of the record' space that I go into every time I start an album cycle.
"I disappeared into my studio for probably too long and I wrote and wrote and wrote and ended up with a dozen or so songs that I thought were really freaking cool. I brought them to my team and one thing kept coming up: 'this sounds like a solo record' they'd say.
"I was hurt and frustrated at first. I thought these were my church's songs! But when I could take a step back and see more objectively, I realized that yes! They are worship songs... but they're my heart for worship not necessarily the heart of THIS church's."
And so began the journey that culminated with this 11-song set of songs that some are already saying is Sligh's most current-sounding and tightest collection of songs yet.
"Freedom Song" is a call to worship that takes us from one place musically (anthemic & epic with massive-sounding percussion) to another (EDM/Dance breakdown). Here's what Sligh had to say about the lyrics:
"God's omnipresence is usually described as Him being everywhere at once... but it also means He is every TIME at once. As He experiences our worship today, He -- outside the constraints of time -- is also experiencing the worship from every generation all at once. So the vision I had for this song is to 1st off welcome the Holy Spirit to fill this place and to be welcome here, into honest and authentic praise. But secondly, I want to cast vision to our people that the worship we experience is not a one-time experience in the now, but we are joining in the freedom song of thousands upon thousands of believers through the ages in lifting up the name of God in praise!"
"This is our story, this is our future, our past
The song of the ages
The is our kingdom, this is our firm, hallowed ground
The holy of holies
This is our anthem, this is our freedom song
Let lips only praise You
And in this moment, we join in heaven's song
And give You all glory"
"Stripes" is another 80's-infused pop track that feels both immediately modern and nostalgic all at once. Lyrically, this is Chris Sligh in his element -- the poignant and thoughtful, open and vulnerable lyrics flow in conjunction with the melody in a way that tells you, the listener, are in good hands. The flow, the inner rhyme scheme, the tiny turns of phrases... they all add up to a lyric that expresses something deep but accessible.
"Our great God, you bring to life
All that's broken comes alive
All the hurt and shattered things will be made new
Heal us, pull us close to You
Healer, pull us close to You"
"Backwards" is Sligh's description of the backwards nature as to how God works in comparison to how man works.
"Outlandish love, how can it be
A perfect King chose death to prove
In death toself true life begins
And I receive by what I lose...
You turned me around, everything upside down
And I see clearly now
There's only after you overcame my curse
And put death in reverse
Gave imperfection worth
You turn thingsbackwards"
Perhaps the catchiest of songs on this album, the production (featuring additional production from Zak Schweitzer) and melodic sensibility ties us into the overall message of this song... and one might suggest the very message of our Christian faith: He turns around our lives, our deaths, our expectations, our results... He turns things backwards.
Lyrically "More of You" takes us on a journey from Psalm 63 (In a dry a weary land where there is no water, we thirst for you) to John 3:30 (He must become greater, I must become less.) Musically, the song would feel at home in mainstream radio, far more than Christian. With its melancholy mood to the choices of synths to the percussion sounds used to the full AutoTune on Sligh's voice, the song paints a musical soundscape that is both eery and drives home the point of "Less of Me" as quite literally we hear none of Chris Sligh's normal dulcet vocal tones.
"In the desert, in a dry and weary land
We thirst for you
In the darkness, when we can not see Your hand
You still lead us"
"Here" brings us fully into the 1980s, with Ryky Legg's smooth and funky bass lines to the arpeggiated synths to the funky guitars. Lyrically, the song thoroughly explores Psalm 139 and tells us that no matter where we go or what we do, God's love and grace is indeed "Here".
"Deeper, wider, high or low
We can trust You for we know
Your love goes beyond our deepest need...
... You -- you are -- you are here."
"Worthy" -- the album's first single -- is an uptempo, 80s pop-inspired anthem. Easily singable and easily understandable -- but not without its lyrical twists -- the song could fit in most modern churches today. And the spirit of the lyrics simply magnifies the name of Jesus:
"How majestic is Your name
And greatly to be praised are You, God
Rightous, loving kind, faithful every time
Are you, God...
...Your name is holy, Your name is mighty
And God You are worthy"
"Your Love (Thank You)" takes us into more familiar Chris Sligh territory. It is at once moody and atmospheric, ethereal and challenging, familiar and fresh. The soundscape here is the feeling of space and more space and the instruments are saturated by tasteful reverbs and delays on the verge of oscillation. And when the band kicks in, the song features some of the best guitar work on this album, brought to the table by Tyson Morlet.
"It's a mighty roar and a healing flood
It's an outstretched hand and a Savior's blood
There is strength, there is power
There will always be more than enough
It's Your promise, Your vow
It's Your love."
"All to You (I Surrender)" is the heart of what has always been the hallmark of Sligh's career: lyrical vulnerability, admitting both fault and desire for redemption, surrounded by simple -- but perfectly-crafted -- melodic sensibility. The production pays homage to the old and the new. The space and openness of the chorus' production -- with its gurgling synths and spacious-sounding percussion -- leaves place for this simple thought:
"These empty hands, I surrender
This faithless heart, I surrender
My everything, my all to give
My hopes and fears, my brokenness
I surrender all to You"
"You Are God" takes us into what the listener might recognize as the most familiar modern worship territory. It is a song that could be on your church's song list tomorrow and no one would be the wiser that it wasn't coming from Passion or Tomlin.
"You are God, a solace and rescue
In the darkest night, You're my salvation
You're the King of Kings, mighty in battle
You deliver me
I and Yours God and You are God!"
The albums heads towards its end with the sweetest song of the set, "Mystery of Love". Lyrically, the song is Sligh at his deepest and most well-crafted. Musically the song starts with just a piano and ends with a crescendo of percussion and strings.
"Lost in the width and the breadth of Your presence
Stumbling into the depths of Your heart
I come face to face with a beauty relentless
And come undone"
And finally "Fill This Place" is a pop/EDM anthem that is a perfect bookend to "Freedom Song" - a call to worship that evolves into something so contagious you can't help but sing along.
"Turn our eyes, let us see you
Fill this place, make a way
Let your presence pour out on us"
Musically, there are strains of modern EDM with some 80s style Juno synths, all surrounded by poly-rhythmic drums patterns that build and swell into a fist-pumping, body-moving, synth-led instrumental breakdown that would feel at home in churches and clubs alike.
This is Chris Sligh at his most fun.
From start to finish Mighty Roar / Healing Flood does not disappoint, giving us the types of moments we've come to expect from Chris Sligh's songwriting and production, while still pushing the envelope forward with things that feel new and fresh.