Quite the Work of Art
Posted September 10, 2012
By JJFrancesco_NRT, Staff Reviewer
Derek Webb hasn't been one to play it very safe with his music. He takes risks, experiments, and tries to actually craft a piece of art instead of just another enjoyable listen. Sometimes that endeavor leads to controversy, such as with a hair of profanity on his 2009 release, Stockholm Syndrome.
Webb is back with Ctrl, and yes, it is intentionally spelled the computer keyboard abbreviated way. While this album isn't likely to generate the same level of controversy, it likely will remain an acquired taste for music listeners.
Opening with a rousing church choir--which I read is The Sacred Harp Choir, whom Webb brought in and used throughout the album, as the listener will quickly discover--the opening track, "And See The Flaming Skies" seems to prep itself to lead into a big and epic opening track, like something a hard rock band might do. But that never happens. Instead, Webb's acoustic and laid back sound follows and delivers and soothing and mysterious sounding song, devoid of major hooks or a chorus. It plays almost like a literary poem set to music. It becomes strangely enticing. The choir returns to close out the track.
The mysterious sound continues into "A City With No Name," which is a tad more formulaic, actually having a chorus. But the mysterious acoustic sound and haunting vocals keep the song feeling anything but usual. In just the melody, it seems to carrying a warning message of sorts. I suppose if there were to be a song that'd make a serviceable radio single, it'd be this, but even that is a bit of a stretch, considering how all of these songs seem to fit together as a single work of art.
"Can't Sleep" is next. Again, with little that can be considered a chorus besides the "I Can't Sleep" line repeated several times at the beginning and end of the chorus, it again feels like something out of a college poetry class. "Blocks" brings the same eerie vibes, and the same mysterious tone. Lyrics like "I see you in my dreams / cause of death a broken heart / is there some place we could meet / where we don't get torn apart" might feel a bit more accessible, but they seem to fit well into Webb's poetic delivery and never feel cliché. Webb even makes the chorus of "I just want love / and I would do anything to get it / almost anything for you" seem like something that few to no people have ever felt before.
"Pressing on the Bruise" and "Attonitos Gloria" continue the sound established so far. Sometimes the songs have a bit faster and more upbeat tempo at times. "I Feel Everything" ends with a heart monitor stopping but "Reanimate" fitting seems to start it up again in it's opening and fittingly, the track feels a little bit more optimistic both musically and lyrically.
So not surprisingly, when you least expect it, there's a surprise waiting "Around Every Corner." (Yes, pun intended.) That song is actually a pretty solid closer too. Its bridge brings more energy and upbeat melody than anywhere else on the album, singing out "This is no place for a civilized man / this is no face of a civilized man / so don't you follow me." What's surprising is that Webb doesn't opt to go out with a big bang or a haunting reverse of the album's intro. Again defying expectations, Webb does art his own way, and it sounds pretty good.
The album's lyrics aren't necessarily the most explicitly Christian you'll find (unless you count the choir's parts), but tucked behind the examinations of the human condition and emotions, is a very heavy spiritual foundation.
Ctrl is pretty much unlike anything else you'll hear this year. It's unique, haunting, and thought provoking. As mentioned before, it's also quite the acquired taste. You actually gotta take time to sit down and listen to this to take away everything it has to offer, which limits the accessibility of most of the songs. However, if one does take the time to listen to it with an open mind, it'll be difficult to come away from it not feeling that one has heard something truly deep and artistic, something greater than can be understood in a single sitting, and thus something that will have to be played again.
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