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Building Up and Breaking Out
Posted February 02, 2014
By JJFrancesco_NRT, Staff Reviewer

It's always great to see new bands and new record labels get a foot in the door of the often very exclusive club that is Christian music. One of the latest labels making more and more of an impact has been DREAM Records. Couple that growing presence with a band who achieved some notice in the Christian rock realm while still unsigned, and you have quite a pairing that is definitely poised to send some shockwaves through the Christian Rock realm.

Enter Sumerlin's label debut, Runaways. They already had some chart presence independently, so it's no surprise to see lead single from this project "Breaking Out" doing just that by playing with the big fish at the top of the rock charts. One of the things that first struck me about Sumerlin was an uncanny comparison to the early years of another "erlin" alternative rock act. Yes, I'm talking about Anberlin. While not exact replicas by any stretch, there was a definite similarity to Sumerlin's style with that of Anberlin circa-Blueprints for the Black Market and Never Take Friendship Personal.

Runaways doesn't do much to change this, and the title itself only strengthens the comparisons. Still, there's just enough here to give Sumerlin their own musical identity, and with Anberlin poised to leave a huge void after 2014, these comparisons may give Sumerlin a window to step into the role as a prime alternative rock headliner.

Rocking opener "Heartbeat" immediately catches the ear with a sweet spot between crunchy, rocking guitars and an emotional and melodic chorus with top-notch vocal delivery. This sets the tone for the album, as most of the songs follow this pattern.

This creates a bit of a Catch-22 for Sumerlin. On one hand, it creates a bit of a diversity issue with the album at times that leads to a degree of predictability. On the other hand, Sumerlin does what they do so well that each of those songs is a potential hit in one format or another, and thus the collection still remains an exciting batch of rock hits that could bring them lots of success given the right exposure.

Aforementioned "Breaking Out" is already proving a solid hit, and with a strong message about God "breaking me out of myself," it's got plenty of thematic meat to it, which holds true for most of the album.

"Speak Up, Speak Out" is arguably one of the more blatant Anberlin influences, both musically and to a degree lyrically (the lyrics also hold striking references to themes explored by Red and Skillet). Yet it also stands as the most memorable track of the bunch. The song boasts a rocking and catchy chorus in "We created a monster / spreading this disease / and I can't let go / someone stop this please before it takes control of me." The song is effective in conveying the destructive impact our actions can have on our relationships and our lives, but it offers hope in the bridge lyric "Take it back / this is your life." Songs like these hold the promise of keeping Sumerlin a regular presence on the charts for some time.

There are also some stylistic surprises here. The softer tunes such as "Voices" and "You Always Were" open opportunities for Sumerlin to appeal to a crowd who typically wouldn't get in to a harder rock sound. With choruses that are often worshipful, Sumerlin's appeal to Christians in particular could be a lot more defined than the more subtle spiritual wordings of many other bands with similar sounds.

This is an album that resounds with clear and distinct meaning with little left to mysterious ambiguities and varying interpretations. Runaways is essentially an album of coming home, of finding your identity in Christ again. Each of the songs seeks to illuminate a path for us to get back to the person we are supposed to be, to stop being a runaway. Sumerlin may prove themselves capable of having the best of both the alternative rock sound and meaningful lyrics.

Closing Thoughts:
Sumerlin has crafted an album that promises to excite and thrill listeners. While the similarities to Anberlin are undeniable, I'm not convinced these comparisons are necessarily a bad thing. They could even work in Sumerlin's favor given the fondness many have for Anberlin.

While Sumerlin is doing everything right, they are still missing a bit of their own distinct magic that has solidified the bands they draw comparisons to as the heavyweights in their genre. But even those acts didn't typically find that "something" on their first few albums. With the talent Sumerlin demonstrates here, there's every reason to believe that they are capable of producing that album. So while I don't think this will be the album of Sumerlin's career, it's definitely one that gives them a blistering, building momentum towards making the album that will truly cement itself as a classic of its genre generation.

Song to Download Now:
"Breaking Out" (Get it on iTunes here.)

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