Album Review :
Former Ruins - No Creature Is Hidden

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Label: Independent
Release Date: June 9, 2023 (Bandcamp) / June 16, 2023 (Streaming)


  1. The Last Thing I Saw
  2. Sparrow Eyes
  3. Uncreated Light
  4. Sign
  5. Lindy
  6. Horses In First Drafts
  7. Our Love Is Water
  8. False Infinities
  9. Doxology
  10. Millefleurs

I’ll be honest – Former Ruins’ (Levi Dylan Sikes) latest album is one I’m cautious to provide any sort of commentary on. It can be easy to be flippant with certain, or, to be frank, a majority of albums and not fully grasp the humanity behind them. And in many ways, that is the essence of No Creature Is Hidden – what does it mean to be a creature, to be seen, to hold fast to our weaknesses and beauty alike in the eyes of Christ Who saves? Can I do it justice, and is my attempt in TRYING to do it justice part of the problem? Nonetheless, I’ll aim to provide some thoughts here.

Large Startling released in March of 2020, during a season of international turmoil. For some of us, it felt like nothing had changed in some ways – disconnection and loneliness, both interpersonally and spiritually, are endemic after all. For others, our pillars were toppled, jobs were lost, and uncertainty lingered. And while the record did not necessarily anticipate these things, it spoke to a more pressing and urgent reality – in our loss, chaos, and sin, Christ is supremely good. I was impressed largely by the lyrics which were not shy to address topics of deconstruction and pornography, among other things. I am very much a lyrics-first person, and the inclusion of an annotated booklet was the sort of thing that fascinated me thoroughly. There were lyrical nods to authors, musicians, and cultural moments that give a real sense of specificity to a certain demographic – the former youth group kids perhaps now leaving orthodox traditions of faith. It was a sort of Ebenezer in one sense, not caving to the whims of the world but opting instead looking forward to eternity.

Now, more than three years after the fact, No Creature Is Hidden has finally been released. It fundamentally rejects both the spirit-only lean of gnosticism and the live-your-truth mentality of post-modernism. Instead, the album seeks to reconcile what it means to be a created being, a designed entity with flesh and spirit alike. In what ways has this been distorted, and how do we reclaim the beauty of our true identity – even if it costs our own desires? Much like its predecessor, the album balances hard truths and rebukes along with joyous celebrations of beauty. And while its lyrical angle is a bit different than last time, the sentiments here continue to be immediately striking. To boot, the production is far more robust: every track has full-band instrumentation, Jennifer Sikes lends some powerful backing vocals, and John-Michael Sellers has provided some synthesizer and programming work as well. These songs feel much fuller than anything off Large Startling, and the sonic pallet is much broader.

The album itself has existed in several forms, complete with variations of cover designs, track listings, and even numerous demos of the songs themselves. So, the development has been a bit non-linear and delayed the album over a year since the original intended release date. And while the aim to finally release it felt like placing in a specific end point perhaps a bit arbitrarily, a few new songs quickly were added and moved from instrumentals to complete versions in a very short amount of time. Most of this isn’t public, nor does it entirely relate to the listening experience, but it’s still interesting to see how the late-stage tracks hold weight as well as their earlier counterparts.

The final version of this album is ten tracks of nearly an hour’s worth of material, spanning from the unabashedly-Dylanesque to the more intricate post-punk flavored indie side of things. Large Startling was perhaps more obvious in its influences, often presenting more skeletal versions of songs that drew heavily from folk and and classic rock to some degree. Mind you, these influences are still at play, but the once-dry bones are now adorned in the flesh of tireless labor. There’s a lot more rock this time around

“The Last Thing I Saw” opens the record, and it reminds me a bit of “Flannelgraph”, in form and content alike. It sets the stage for the context of the record by wrestling with the realities of true wisdom and understanding in the midst of a world unwinding with distorted ideologies. Even so, it feels a bit more matured in its approach – perhaps because it feels centered around enduring marriage and topics like childhood terminal illness. I could talk at length about the lyrical intricacies of the record, but for the sake of simplicity, let me call out one particularly bold part of this track:

You preoccupied my adolescence like

An open-carry on the hip

Of the woman I knew I’d marry

Her name was fear and trembling

But this is how it’s always felt

Like I’m only arriving

Where you’ve already been

And even now I feel it

You’ve shown me your power

By where you conceal it

It’s an incredibly poetic way of speaking toward God’s power in terms of the unseen, rather than the visible and threatening approaches of the world. In fact, the whole track ruminates on how we only ever follow behind God and what He has already set forth. There are, of course, very precise references to life as well – though they’re not quite spelled out clearly. The opening lines pay homage to “Large Startling” without remorse, and they seem to record falling into a pool that a horse had also fallen into previously. Ultimately, it’s a tamer track, but it sets a proper tone for the album.

“Sparrow Eyes” follows, and it picks up quickly with a nostalgic, 80s-flavored vibe. Even though this track has been out for a bit already, it’s still a favorite in terms of overall arrangement. It’s also where the album derives its title. I believe it was planned as the opening track at some point, and while it no longer holds that honor, it still serves as a cornerstone of sorts.

But we have tried to flee from your sight

In a browser, in a boardroom, on our bed at night

We’ve become all the kinds of things we’ve liked

And the emptiness calls out to you

This is definitely a lyrical powerhouse of a song, but fundamentally it seems to speaks toward the ways we find identity apart from God – and the consequent emptiness that follows. Musically, it’s just as powerful, building into a powerful and dynamic end with layered vocals and powerful momentum in guitar lines.

“Uncreated Light” might be the only track that hasn’t been released to the Patron Circle at this point, and it’s definitely the sort of blunt, minor-prophet-energy type song that speaks toward how lightly we take the name of God. It follows in a similar vein to “Chaplain”, what with its unafraid approach toward calling out sin and pointing toward repentance. As it relates to the themes of the album, it explores our attempts to falsely manufacture what only God can produce.

In our caricature we drew

Your features based on our own truth

Our logos in the sponsored section

Of the program and the script we put you through

And when we hung it on the wall It clashed with nothing at all

We forgot your mouth is drawn

Like a sword

“Sign” is one of the most orchestral tracks on the record, complete with a vibrant and captivating end. This juxtaposes difficult lyrics of political idolatry and reminds us that Christ was rejected by all sides of worldly influence. I personally (but perhaps incorrectly), want to claim credit for inspiring the following lyrics based on something I sent Levi a while back:

There’s no bloodless membership

It’s just a question of whose blood it is

Like pretty much every track here, it’s incredible lyrically-dense, and it’s not shy about addressing cultural hypocrisy. But the goal isn’t simply to end in cynicism – it’s to be pointed toward a real source of redemption in a world of broken solutions.

I’m hesitant to say this, but “Lindy” is perhaps one of the more simplistic songs on the record. It’s a tribute to Sikes’ mother of the same name, and it’s actually a pretty powerful affirmation of life – one that affirms loving families, sees children as gifts, and sees parents as figures to be respected. In short, it presents an incarnational view of some pretty standard biblical concepts that have unfortunately been thrown out the window. It’s a song of thankfulness and adoration for the common ways God works through His covenants – the simple, ordinary means.

This section of the album is packed with other angles of how family plays into God’s design. It’s apologetics via object lessons of sorts. “Horses In First Drafts” is perhaps my FAVORITE Former Ruins song to date as a whole, showcasing what I consider to be the boldest and fullest instrumental arrangement in the discography. Bright keys open the song, and atmospheric guitar dances around in the background. But when the chorus kicks in, bouncy drums, claps, and incredible lead motifs are front and center. The track continues to shift as the second verse talks about being inspired by Bon Iver (even though the track ISN’T relying on arpeggios), and by the end, Jennifer Sikes’ backing vocals serve as the cherry on top. Lyrically, it looks at conceptions of what it means to be a man and the clichés and dangers on both extremes – on one hand, the call to be tough and victorious, even stoic; the other involves ideas of emotional distance, sexual idolatry, and laziness. Since the track’s fundamental premise is wading through masculine clichés, there’s a lot of imagery at play in trying to redeem the brokenness of this topic. This culminates eventually to a reference about Bruce Springsteen:

Cos every other flanneled father

Roughly my age

Can’t help themselves but sing along

With The Boss

And when it hits the chorus

We hear the galloping of horses

And we believe even just for a minute

We could recover all we’ve lost

As a (somewhat unimportant) side note, the mention of “flanneled fathers” here really gives things a simple, earthy feeling. One of my friends commented that she appreciates Sikes’ wholesome cottagecore family vibe even though she doesn’t listen to music. As adept of a wordsmith as he is, there isn’t really a particular sense of pretense.

“Our Love Is Water” is one of the last tracks to be finalized for the record, and it’s shifted perhaps even more so than its lyrical sentiments. It’s a song of fidelity and marital endurance, and it pairs incredibly well with the tracks before it. Musically, it’s a slower and softer song. The guitar lines parts are a bit formless, reverb-heavy and a bit jazzy. Personally, it’s not a highlight for me and the lyrical analogy is a bit confusing, seeming to suggest that love being like water is both good and bad. Even so, these lyrics stand out:

I don’t have any illusions

That I’m the one to save you

I’ll just be watching your yellow

Parachute descend

Like a retriever I’ll be there

When you land

“False Infinities” has been a favorite for a while now, and I even enjoyed some of the early demos a bit more than the later ones. I’ve ultimately grown to accept its current form. It’s yet another provocative track, full of sentiments like the following:

But here’s yet another


In Warby Parker

Glasses without a prescription

He said we’re star stuff

And baby, we are enough

And the Kingdom of Heaven is within

(It’s all within)

And the capital U-universe is here to guide us

Toward our own inner light

Well ok

But just saying that sort of thing

Never got anyone crucified

Front to back, the lyrics expose the vanity and contradiction of worldly paths of salvation and how little they actually offer in terms of comfort. Indeed, any of them necessarily adopt some form of a distorted prosperity gospel and present a vignette of a god who cannot truly love or know us.

“Doxology” is, well, a rehashed version of the Doxology, complete with new lyrics and an original chorus. Rest assured, this is far from Chris Tomlin’s endeavors and pays respect to the simplicity and humility of the original rendition. “We become what we behold,” Sikes notes. The focus yet again is on God as creator.

“Millefleurs” closes out the album, and it’s another track that changed quite a bit in development. It originally was going to be a sort of reprise of “Sparrow Eyes”, but its final, public form features compete lyrics. There’s definitely an Andy Squyres flavor to the lyrics, especially in instances like this:

Did you come out here to find me

Crawling the far hills naked?

Cause even your reproach clothes me

In a millefleurs raiment

You would’ve fed me daily

From your windowsill, I kept it vacant

So you hung around like suet in the snow

Even then, you were waiting

One interesting part of this song is the backing vocals that echo “All we are is known to you / all we are is made of you” that had me searching the credits to find just who was the source of this mysterious contribution. The answer, interestingly enough, is Sikes himself, though it’s certainly not his typical baritone timbre. The use of foreground and background space is particularly managed well here, and the song ties everything together by nodding back to the beginning of the record.

Yours are the arms we were meant fall into

Where everything false about us just falls right through

Toward your garment’s edge we come staggering

Our incurable wound kept us asking

For who can hem us in behind and before

Back in the embroidery of

Your millefleurs

The track list is one of the pieces that makes this album work so powerfully – it’s bookended by creation and consummation, and the guts of it wrestle with fall and redemption.

No Creature Is Hidden takes the incredible strengths of Large Startling and makes it look like an elementary school art project by comparison. This is the definitive form of Former Ruins, with lush instrumental arrangements, continued lyrical boldness, and an annoying sense of perfectionism that just happens to pay off. I’ve had the joy of hearing some of these songs earlier on, but the extra time spent refining them, tweaking lyrics, restructuring things, adding in guest contributions, and getting the album mixed and mastered adds endless dimension to already-strong base tracks. There is plenty of social commentary here, but it never excludes self from the equation. It’s a reminder that we are not self-made and that this reality is in fact GOOD. Previous singles like “Sparrow Eyes” and “False Infinities” serve as powerful pillars, while new songs like “Uncreated Light” and “Millefleurs” each add into the album’s testimony. Holistically, these are the best Former Ruins songs, and even my least favorites (“Lindy” and “Our Love Is Water”) still shine with distinct personalities and commentary on our relationships with one another. Sikes has painstakingly crafted an album that easily rivals artists of higher stature, and as he seeks to pursue music as a full-time job, perhaps this will be the portfolio piece he needs to get there.

No Creature Is Hidden will release on Bandcamp on 6/9 before hitting streaming services.

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