Building Cathedrals of Praise
Posted October 20, 2014
By SarahFine_NRT, Staff Reviewer
Few new Christian groups of the last decade have had either the staying power or the success that Tenth Avenue North has maintained. The Florida-based group of five, fronted by charismatic word weaver Mike Donehey, made waves when they appeared on the scene back in 2008. It has been quite the adventure ever since then.
Between juggling the responsibilities of being traveling musicians in the spotlight and trying to maintain a normal private life, it's been a fascinating journey seeing them mature from young men wanting to voice their thoughts on life, love and Jesus, to become grown husbands and fathers, still in many ways trying to do the same thing.
An altered perspective spurred them to find true joy in trials through their last critically acclaimed album, The Struggle. With raw and authentically honest songwriting, it firmly established the band as a force to be reckoned with in the industry. With hit songs like "Losing," "Worn" and "Don't Stop The Madness," it would be hard to follow it up, yet in one of 2014's last hurrah's, Cathedrals aims to do just that.
Lead single "No Man Is An Island" highlights the group's keen ability to sing about messy things with overwhelming grace, the lyrics themselves describing it better than I ever could: "No man is an island let your guard down / You don't have to fight me, I am for you / We're not meant to live this life alone."
The first portion of the album sticks with TAN's signature moody pop melodies and never really strays away from their use of chilled instrumentation that feels quietly electronic, while still possessing an organic purity. The hauntingly dramatic "I Need You, I Love You, I Want You" does this beautifully. It almost sounds less like a song and more like a movie score.
The second half of Cathedrals is where the creativity factor kicks into high gear. Never a band known for their rock sensibilities, you'd never know it with the blazing opening moments of "Stay" and "Closer." For a second, you'd swear you were listening to a Switchfoot record (a big compliment, seeing as the bands are often compared for their similar style of introspective songwriting.)
Speaking of which, some serious word weaponry is found on the gritty "For Those Who Can't Speak," featuring guest appearances by Derek Minor and KB. A spotlight on the nightmare of human trafficking, the rap on the front end is particularly potent: "27 millions slaves but no plantation, 27 million slaves, all different races / This is not the picture the Lord painted in Genesis / Silence is our enemy, our voices can end it."
Though many great songs showcase themselves on this album, if there were ever a perfect portrait of their musical evolution, "Cathedrals" is it. A spine-chilling prelude by Audrey Assad singing the old Latin hymn "lesu, Dulcis Memoria" sweeps you away as it leads into the powerful words "And now children of the light, fight back darkness with delight / Lift your eyes to His face, let joy take temptation's place."
There is a running gag among Christian music fans that Tenth Avenue North falls into the "genre" of a cry band. While obviously comical, it's also accurate. Between vulnerable songwriting and a team effort of musical craftsmanship out to rival the best of their competitors, it's hard to walk away from a Tenth Avenue North record not feeling like you've just been roundhouse kicked in the tear ducts.
The one thing I noticed walking away from this album immediately is that it didn't leave me with that same sock-you-in-the-spiritual gut feeling their last few have. That's not necessarily a bad thing, and with Cathedrals, I honestly don't think that's what they set out to accomplish. This is the most overtly worshipful set of songs the band has produced in many years. Rather than focusing on the brokenness amidst the trials, this is more like the accompaniment that screams "God is greater still."
This is a worthy effort by an incredible band seeking to say honest things. For that both fans and the music community have reason to be grateful.
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