Album Review :
Citizens - Citizens

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Artist: Citizens
Title: Citizens
Label: BEC Recordings/Mars Hill Music
Release Date: 3/12/13
Reviewer: Jonathan Andre

Tracklisting:

  1. Sweetness of Freedom
  2. In Tenderness
  3. Hail the King
  4. Made Alive
  5. I Am Living in a Land of Death
  6. Jesus!
  7. I Surrender All
  8. Sins of My Youth
  9. Psalm 18
  10. Praise to the Lord
  11. Oh God

…God showed me I needed to love people…everything about my life was centred on me, and here I was surrounded by people that needed to hear the gospel. They needed a dude who actually believed the Word…’Sounding eerily similar vocally to needtobreathe frontman Bear Rinehart and Samestate lead singer Dalton Diehl, lead singer Zach Bolen from the Mars Hill Church worship group Citizens has given listeners a great debut album self-titled album from Citizens, and while Zach never imagined himself in ministry or even leading worship at a church, Christ continued to work in his heart, and out from the realisation of needing to commune with fellow Christians and non-Christians alike and a constant pouring out of love onto them; Citizens was born, a 11 song album full of anthems, hymns and a few original tracks to show us a powerful and emotive 11 song journey for listeners to travel alongside with. With Citizens being created after Zach had been working at the Mars Hill U-district campus for quite some time, Zach’s powerful voice shown to have a rock-country vocal presence is a great highlight of the album, as both musically and lyrically, we see the album as a treasure, something to rival even Audio Adrenaline as the best Christian album of March 2013! With the hit single ‘Made Alive’ already garnering plenty of hits on Youtube for a greatly inventive music video, Zach and the rest of the team have given us encouragement and a daily reminder of our future in Christ. From the already infectious and enjoyable anthem ‘Made Alive’ to the great rendition of ‘I Surrender All’, Citizens have developed a well-thought out album full of musical ingenuity and heartfelt promises as we dwell on the truth that ‘…You have bought me back with the riches of, Your amazing grace and relentless love…’ (‘Made Alive’).

‘Made Alive’ is the first single from the album, and with a very creative music video to accompany this heartfelt song, we are presented with one of my favourite pop-worship tracks this year, as Zach lets us know and understand that we are made alive when we dive deeper into the presence of Christ. With a mesmerising piano hook and some powerful percussion loops to lead us into some of the most heartfelt lyrics on the whole album, ‘Made Alive’ anchors the album with some poetic and powerful words to let us dwell upon as we realise that it is in our Lord and Saviour that our hearts are filled and darkness dissipates at the sight of the Lord. Not your average radio-friendly pop-rock melody, the musical ingeniousness shown by Citizens is probably akin to that of Rend Collective Experiment, Bellarive, Gungor or David Crowder as alternative worship is given another look through the lens and the plethora of worship and praise. Sporting a beard to give him a David Crowder look, Zach has truly given his all through this song, creating one that will certainly be a song highlight of the year. ‘I Surrender All’ is another standout for me personally, and standing at a lengthy 6 minutes or so, Zach’s rendition of a fan favourite hymn certainly gives the song character, charisma and passionate enthusiasm as the song takes on a slower acoustic feel as we hear Zach declare the words of this timeless hymn to the eerily haunting and somewhat refreshing percussion and keyboard that lets us linger in God’s presence just a little longer. The added bridge of ‘…oh the joy of full salvation, sin and death defeated, glory to His name…’ is able to fit nicely as I reflect on the poignancy and timelessness of the hymn, and the increased appeal with the added lyrical lines. With Citizens placing their unique flavour onto the song, we are invited to sing along to this humble melody. Well done Mars Hill Music and Citizens for the first single and one of my favourite renditions of ‘I Surrender All’.

‘Hail the King’ is perhaps one of my favourite songs on the album that explicitly talks about the gospel of grace- straight, to the point and in your face about the facts of God’s redemption story as He continuously reminds of us His sacrifice to us through Jesus. As Zach’s vocals remind me of a cross between worship leader Andy Cherry and Switchfoot lead singer Jon Foreman in this song, we are given a straight-up powerful testimony as Zach declares that we were ‘…once bound by sin and shame, now slaved to righteousness, our faith perfected by His love, praise the Saviour, He has won…’ As we listen to some of the most confronting yet comforting songs of the year so far, Zach’s enthusiasm yet equal sense of urgency is shown through the poignant track of redemption and restoration. Similarly, ‘Jesus!’ is equally powerful as the song lets us know of Jesus and the power that is inherent when we call upon His name. It is nice to reflect and listen to all the qualities that Jesus is (‘…Author of Salvation, Giver of new life, crucified to pay for sin, our righteousness is in the name of Jesus…’) and also to hear some great musical framework underlying this almost poetic track. Proud to declare myself as being a Jesus follower as I place my firm trust in Him, ‘Jesus!’ is one of the songs that will certainly solidify faith if we just let our guard down and allow it to minister to our souls. With a great employ of gang vocals during certain aspects of the song, both ‘Jesus!’ and ‘Hail the King’ anchor the album in terms of great songs full of biblical theology destined to assist and help listeners continue to pursue and delve into their faith. The hymn ‘Praise to the Lord God Almighty’ will also fulfil that goal as well as Zach takes a timeless hymn and somewhat alters the music to modernise the song a little and therefore attract a variety of listeners. As we pair this song with ‘I Surrender All’, I can easily say that Citizens have done a great job in giving us 2 awesomely choreographed renditions of hymns and hymn-like songs. In particular ‘Praise to the Lord God Almighty’, we are encouraged to give thanks and praise to the Lord, and even though this song was based on a German melody during the 1680s, the song still makes a welcomed impact today. Well done guys for some of the most biblically sound and greatly affecting songs in 2013 so far!

‘In Tenderness’ is another hymn given a new musical rendition as Zach creates a heavy drum based and light electric guitar riff song that reminds listeners of when the song was written in the 1890s. Together with both ‘Praise to the Lord’ and ‘I Surrender All’, Citizens have also given this song a major face-lift to show us how with just a musical rearrangement, a timeless track can appeal greatly to the new generation of listeners who enjoy more of the alternative-rock music scene. Sounding much like Jon Foreman with his passionate yet raspy vocals, we are constantly and continually reminded of His blood poured out for us and ‘…the grace that brought me to the fold of God…’ While ‘I Am Living in the Land of Death’ can somewhat be a morbid song title, its themes of this song are destined to lead this melody into one of the most musically and lyrically poignant of the year so far, with electronic music and a thudding bass leads the song to appeal greatly to the indie-rock/worship folk that enjoy music that’s certainly not the CCM norm. Standing at a length of 6:16, we are given great instrumentation amidst the poignant and poetic lines that ‘…though a poison should threaten to kill, I know my Saviour reigns, and when the breezes of death leave a chill, I’ve got Jesus’ blood in my veins…’, and as I liken this song’s passion and ingenuity to similar musical arrangements by artists like Leeland, Bellarive and Rend Collective Experiment, Citizens have outdone themselves with such a stellar track.

Citizens also offer us energy and enthusiasm in fast-paced first song ‘Sweetness of Freedom’ where Zach declares that the sweetness of freedom comes from when we submit and surrender to Christ; while ‘Psalm 18’ is a anthemic rendition of Psalm 18, with Zach declaring with all his might that Christ is our rock and shield, fortress in a time of fear and disappointment. Yet it is the last song on the album simply titled ‘Oh God’ that will truly resonate long after the album has been listened to, with its themes evidently poignant as we hear Zach declare that Christ is near to us regardless of any circumstance or even how we feel. Reminding myself of Romans 8, where we are given a passage that shares with us that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love, Zach has given us this hauntingly refreshing melody with just an acoustic guitar and keys, giving myself a similar atmosphere as many of David Crowder’s acoustic material. A great way to end the album as to declare that ‘…oh God, You never left my side, Your love will stand firm for all my life…’, ‘Oh God’ reminds us all that Christ stays with us always. Well done Citizens for a great final track!

Overall: Citizens’ first self-titled album is a breath of fresh air in terms of worship and praise in an industry full of similar artist styles and tired and overused themes and messages throughout the many radio and church hits throughout the years. From the powerful and emotive ‘Made Alive’ to various hymn covers like ‘I Surrender All’, ‘Praise to the Lord’ and ‘In Tenderness’, Citizens is a greatly produced album almost as equal in quality to Audio Adrenaline’s Kings And Queens and a certain highlight in March 2013. Together with other standout worship albums this year from Meredith Andrews and Rend Collective Experiment, Citizens gives a great alternative to listeners who want to hear worship with an edgy alternative edge. Well done Zach and the rest of the band for creating an album that’s been a joy to listen to and something from left-field. Hope 2013 brings great success for ‘Made Alive’ and the rest of the songs off Citizens!

RIYL: Leeland, Rend Collective Experiment, Gungor, David Crowder Band

Buy the Album: iTunes/Amazon mp3

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