Title: Repeat the Sounding Joy
Label: Mars Hill Music/BEC Recordings
Release Date: 11/26/13
Reviewer: Jonathan Andre
- Joy to the World
- Hark the Herald Angels Sing
- Come and Stand Amazed
- O Come, O Come Emmanuel
- Silent Night
Christmas albums are possibly the one genre style of albums released each year where you would expect artists to sing a similar collection of songs and carols, year after year. Look at any Christmas album over the last while and you’d see the songs that everyone would know- ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’, ‘Silent Night’, ‘Away in a Manger’, ‘O Holy Night’, ‘Joy to the World’, ‘Angels We Have Heard on High’, and the list continues. So why is Christmas music so popular? After all, it’s the same songs every year, year in and year out, wouldn’t people be bored? Whether you love Christmas and all its perks, with the shopping, family, friends, Christmas music in stores and the like, or think that the commercialism of it all has taken away from the true meaning of the season; no one can deny that during this time of year, we are all reminded in a moment in time, even if it is only reminded to us once a year, about the saving grace of God through Jesus. And while many of the carols sung in the shopping malls are sung by singers of mainstream and pop music who may never even believe in what they’re singing about (cynical, but somewhat true); God still uses the carols, even the ones you hear at Target or Myer, to minister to His creation. Enter in another Christmas album to the mix of such albums to be released in 2013- Mars Hills Music band Citizens have released their first Christmas EP, Repeat the Sounding Joy, after a highly successful debut self-titled album earlier on during the year. From their hits ‘Made Alive’, ‘Hail the King’, ‘I Am Living in the Land of Dead’ and the powerful hymn redone ‘I Surrender All’; we are further treated to powerful performances and emotive renditions of carols within this 5 song EP, one of my favourite Christmas EP’s lately, alongside for KING AND COUNTRY’s Into the Silent Night and Meredith Andrews’s Behold the Saviour. With the hit single ‘Made Alive’ already garnering plenty of hits on Youtube for a cleverly inventive music video, Zach and the rest of the team have given us encouragement and a daily reminder of our future in Christ, and how it comes out of Christmastime. A great thing to see a Christmas song within the 5 song lineup that’s not a well-known carol (on the whole, I myself generally love originally written Christmas-themed songs and more obscure carols better than the traditional ones sung on a regular basis); this is an energetic and emotional album, full of celebratory moments of praise and hope. Christmas is a great joyous occasion, and the band has given us an album that is Christ-centred, fun and worthy to be declared one of the Christmas albums/EPs to purchase if you enjoy similar artists like Kutless, Samestate, needtobreathe or Leeland.
‘Come and Stand Amazed’ is the only song on the album that’s not recognisable to me, and is frankly one of my favourites on it as well. Arranged and delivered like a modern Christmas hymn (in fact, I found out that the song was written in the 19th century, which is understandable considering its verse chorus stanza feel), the song starts off with a snare drum beat and a reverbing electronic keyboard riff as Zach declares out the words of how we ought to be amazed at our God, sending Christ the Redeemer to us. The powerful words spoken to us to ‘…come and stand amazed, you people, see how God is reconciled! See his plans of love accomplished, see his gift, this newborn child…’ is something to bask in and behold. While one of the obscure songs (in fact, I don’t believe any artist has covered this song during Christmastime during recent history), Citizens have made me at least check the melody out. Sounding very familiar (you know those songs that you think you’ve heard but actually haven’t…this song is definitely one of them), ‘Come and Stand Amazed’ encourages us to be in awe of Jesus for His choice of giving us abundant grace. This song and hopefully many more will be sung during Christmas, and ought to be the least of what we do as we offer our thanks and reverence to a God who has given us something we so undeservingly long for- the gift of life neverending with our Father. Well done Zach and the rest of the band for powerful drum beats, distinct voices, and a passion and enthusiasm that gives us a clear reminder that ‘…Jesus, God incarnate, who assumed this humble form, counsel me and let my wishes to your perfect will conform…’ (‘Come and Stand Amazed’).
The rest of the album consists of four recognisably known melodies in ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’, ‘Joy To the World’, ‘Silent Night’ and ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’; and while each of them sit at around 3 minutes (on the shorter side of what I would think carols would be in terms of duration), what they all lack in length is fully rectified through the passion of Zach and the intensity of the performance of Citizens on these tracks. ‘Joy to the World’ features heavy bass, strings and a glockenspiel to present to us a rock anthem played in the rhythm of something that would have been around in the 1960s in bars, clubs and casinos across America. Trying to marry heavy guitars against a rhythm of something jazz/motown/blues like is a tremendous art, and Citizens pull it off, with this song musically delivering. Nevertheless, the lyrics still follow a formula, never straying from the original lyrics and somewhat makes the listener feel like they have heard the song before, just sung by a different artist. Maybe it’s because ‘Joy to the World’ isn’t really my favourite Christmas carol, yet I somehow feel that while the music is pretty strong, what lets the song down are the lack of originality- an added verse or a refrain written would’ve made the song much better than what it is. Nevertheless, the band continue to impress us musically as we hear ‘Hark, The Herald Angels Sing’, with various brass instruments and a light electric guitar. Reminding me of something that would’ve been classified as ‘big band’ style back in the day, Citizens have powerfully created a melody that shows us something from the angels point of view, that Christ is ‘…by highest heavenly adored, Christ the everlasting Lord…’
The pipes and woodwind instruments underpin the musicality of ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’, a message of how we welcome God to come and show us His presence, or back in the day when the song was written, for God to show Israel His presence. Played with an alteration of tempos throughout the song (from fast in the chorus to slower in the verse), this version of the melody is one of my favourites, and is sure to be a one of the most unique and powerful renditions of this carol classic ever. Lastly on the EP is ‘Silent Night’, played acoustically with a snare drum to provide an intense and powerful beat. With reverb and gang vocals, we are able to witness possibly one of the renditions that oozes intense passion from Zach, yet for me felt like the melody was leading me straight to sleep. Maybe it’s good on a day when you need it, but I would’ve thought that Christmas carols are supposed to energise you during this holiday season. But with a choir and string instruments, Zach is sure to send me into slumber (possibly in a good way…) as I myself am about to ‘…sleep in heavenly peace…’ ‘Silent Night’ in a general sense isn’t my favourite song, yet I do commend Citizens for boldly making a melody that isn’t just an acoustic guitar and them, or isn’t something upbeat. Placing their own spin on the song, ‘Silent Night’ is a great song for reflection as we rest on the truth of the significance of Christmas and our role we have within the duration of this upcoming holiday season.
Overall: Citizen’s first Christmas EP is one to be treasured by all who have purchased and loved their self-titled debut. Yet even if you haven’t heard the band before, this is a great opportunity to hear some great songs with a worshipful edge. For fans of Leeland, Samestate and Kutless, listeners are able to hear an album from one of my favourite new artists for 2013. From the powerful and emotive ‘Hark, The Herald Angels Sing’ to the powerfully produced hymn ‘Come and Stand Amazed’, Citizens gives a great alternative to listeners, reminding us that Christmas music can still be edgy, relevant and powerful. Well done guys for such a powerful Christmas EP, and may 2014 be the best one yet for the band on Mars Hill Music!
RIYL: Kutless, Leeland, Samestate, needtobreathe, Gungor
Buy the Album: iTunes/Amazon mp3