- What I’m Looking For
- A Million Miles Away
- Words (w/ Bart Millard)
- Elevator (w/ Blanca Callahan)
- Every Beat of My Broken Heart
- Love Like That
- Through The Fire (w/ Mike Donehey)
- Anyone But You
- Outside the Lines
- Fighting For
Hawk Nelson, just like Audio Adrenaline and Newsboys before; have undergone a major change over this last year, with lead singer Jason Dunn leaving the band during May 2012 to pursue a solo career. While many may cry out and declare that this new version of Hawk Nelson (with lead guitarist Jon Stiengard assuming the lead vocal responsibilities) is now shying away from their pop-punk roots and embracing a more contemporary-pop style with a bit of dance elements in between; listening to this album has placed my doubts to rest as I commend Jon with his musical and singing style, showing listeners that even if the lead singer of a band changes, doesn’t mean that the quality of music and the direction of it still being pointed towards pop shouldn’t and thereby doesn’t change. Releasing their new album via funds through kickstarter and distributed through Fair Trade Services (home of artists like Phil Wickham, MercyMe, The Afters, Heather Williams and Sara Groves), Jon Steingard has given listeners a great taste of contemporary pop mixed with a little bit of dance and electronics as we see how far this band has come without being coy or watering down their faith to feed media attention. With so many of their songs being placed in TV shows and movies (the most notable song ‘Bring ‘Em Out’ was featured on the Dennis Quaid movie Yours, Mine And Ours), Hawk Nelson have always given us great music with an uplifting message. Featuring Bart Millard, Mike Donehey (of Tenth Avenue North) and Blanca Callahan (of Group 1 Crew) on tracks to give us the stirring duets of ‘Words’, ‘Through the Fire’ and ‘Elevator’ respectively; Made is sung with such an intense passion by Jon that you can’t help but fall in love with the tracks, even if you have been an avid fan of Jason Dunn and his music, both as a part of Hawk Nelson and as a solo artist. While the musicality of this album is a big divergence from Hawk Nelson’s previous material, this is a welcomed change from a band that has continued and will continue to give us heartfelt melodies of redemption, hope and encouragement. From the uplifting ‘Words’ to the edgy and dance-inspired ‘A Million Miles Away’, Hawk Nelson’s latest album is a treasure from start to finish, and perhaps my favourite album of 2013 so far!
‘Words’ is one of my favourite pop-contemporary songs released to radio during 2012, and with the song anchoring the album as its first radio single, Jon’s duet with MercyMe lead singer Bart Millard shows listeners the versatility of the band as they carve out a different musical identity and give listeners a great radio hit about how words have the power to transform and affect lives more that even we can understand or even imagine. Starting the song with a light electric guitar riff, Jon sings out how words can lift us up to the highest of heights, yet at the same time it can even tear us down and make us feel rotten inside. The power of words can show us the best of people and also the worst of people as we listen to both Jon and Bart harmonise to one of my favourite songs of the year so far. With great musical arrangements, even the light electronic sounds and the autotune serves a direct purpose with introducing the band into the pop-dance circle by employing interesting and ingenious techniques to draw them out of the mould they have been placed in all this time which is pop-punk. With the song heavily describing Ephesians 4:29 (the verse behind the formation of the pop-rock band Building 429) which reminds us of how everything that comes out from our mouths ought to be something that is building someone up; Hawk Nelson’s first single on Made is certainly one to savour as we listen to the different style of music Jon Steingard brings to the band since the departure of Jason Dunn. Well done guys for such a different and unique melody that is certain to bring in some new fans of the CCM variety!
With Hawk Nelson giving us a different musical genre than what we’ve been used to in the past, it is nice to hear Jon make the album less about what was, and more to see what can be tried that is different from pop-punk, yet still keep the same infectious enthusiasm for Christ, life and everything else seen throughout previous albums. ‘A Million Miles Away’ was introduced online in a Merry Christmas post Hawk Nelson did last year when they played the song on their minivan as they were travelling between shows. An infectious song that’s going to make anyone pay attention and listen to this melody that reminds us that ‘…like the east is from the west, like the height is from the depth, You took it all away, it’s gonna stay a million miles away…’; Jon’s fun and energetic energy has been brought to a song that while only 2:40 in length, it’s one of my favourite songs on the album. With an electric guitar hook that anchors the song musically, we are met with a universal theme of trying to be rid of the things that hold us down, and with a heartfelt and often uncomfortable solution of leaving all our mess at Jesus’ feet. An eye opener as we are reminded that our past is behind us and our new lives with Jesus have begun; the song leads on to similar themed melodies, like ‘Elevator (w/ Blanca)’, ‘Anyone But You’ and ‘Every Beat of My Broken Heart’.
‘Elevator’ starts off with a synth and electronic beat as Jon starts to relay to the listeners of how he can sometimes feel like he’s stuck, not going anywhere important; but as we are introduced to the theme of God’s love being like an elevator that shows us how ‘…like an elevator, I’ve never felt like I’m feelin’ tonight, straight off the ground, we’ll never come down, can’t stop ’cause Your love is liftin’ me now…’; we are able to listen and relax in this dance disco song that lets us soak in the love that lifts us up to an encouraging and motivational place. The addition of a Blanca Callahan rap is just golden and icing on a cake that will be great even without the inventive and ingenious bridge. ‘Anyone But You’ is an anthem of thanks and gratitude as we see the impossible things come true right before our eyes. A song that credits Jesus as the source of our help as we are ‘…starting to see, noticing things that carry Your fingerprints, all credit is due, pointing to You…’; ‘Anyone But You’ is a great anthem, and while only 3:02, its power and message in believing the impossible can come true in our own lives is something all of us should aspire to believe in. Lastly is ‘Every Beat of My Broken Heart’, and in a similar way to the earlier three, we are given a song that lets us know that our hurts are behind us, yet at the same time, these very same hurts can be used by the Almighty God to receive our attention and let us grow into the men and women Christ has always wanted us to become. Starting off with a riveting keyboard riff, Jon opens up his heart, and declares something that each one of us have said at one time or another- ‘…this is not what I asked, not what I prayed for, are you listening now? Cause all that I’ve built, all that I’ve bled for is coming undone…’ As we are shown that sometimes God, while not causing the bad thing to happen to us, can equally use and shape it to transform us to become more resilient and reliant on Christ our Saviour, it is when we fully trust God with our broken hearts that we become fully free and embracing of our lives as anything but broken. A song that encourages us to trust God with the part of us that we so often want to keep to ourselves, well done Jon and the rest of Hawk Nelson for these heartfelt songs that are destined to be in listeners’ hearts in months and years to come!
‘Love Like That’ is a pop-dance song that shows a similar lyrical theme to Sidewalk Prophets’ ‘Love, Love, Love’ or Newsboys’ ‘Dance’, as we are encouraged to love without reservation and like we have been changed from the inside out; and while the lyrical theme can seem a little rehashed from other songs from other artists, the unique musicality and pop-dance elements save the song and propel it to one of the most catchiest and enjoyable songs on the album. ‘What I’m Looking For’ is the opening song on the album and in a similar way to ‘Love Like That’, Jon opens up and ponders the theme of looking around and trying to fill up the void with something ‘…bigger than me…more than a feeling…’ While ‘Love Like That’ asks the question about filling your life with a love that’s eternal, ‘What I’m Looking For’ delves down to the root of the issue- searching for something ‘…more than just a temporary high…more than just a momentary life…’ Placing a seed of longing and moving from temporary to eternal into listeners around the world, Hawk Nelson’s first song starts an album full of hope, beauty, wonder and grace as I applaud Jon in making a record that is musically different, yet equally fresh, invigorating and thought-provoking. Lead singer Mike Donehey performs a reflective duet with Jon in ‘Through the Fire’, an acoustically driven track that is about trusting God through the fire and knowing that even in the depths of uncertainty and worry, God still has our best interests at heart and that ‘…You mean good for me…’; while ‘Outside The Lines’ speaks about lasting relationships, and the God that paints outside the lines- goes beyond expectations about Him and shows us that our relationships are certain to last if we focus not on the worry, but on the trust placed in Christ, as we are given an assurance that ‘…don’t worry, we’ll be just fine, our God is working all of the time…’
Yet it is the two songs in ‘Made’ and ‘Faithful’ that showcase some of Hawk Nelson’s greatest and most poignant work on the album. As ‘Faithful’ starts with an acoustic presence and light percussion, Jon gives us a song about trusting God in the hard times, and believing that He is faithful, even when we may not understand or even comprehend His ways during our circumstances. There is a line in the song that really hits home for me for this song, as Jon declares that ‘…You are good, even when You’re not understood….’ No matter what, God is good, and even when we fail to comprehend what He’s doing, He is with us. A great song that shows us that He is faithful, this heartfelt song also written with ex-guitarist of MIKESCHAIR Sam Tinnesz is one to cherish as we listen to an album with virtually no downsides. ‘Made’ is the title track on the album, and is perhaps one of my favourites. Certain to encourage everyone who has identity issues, Jon asks us the poignant questions, in ‘…Why do you fight to accept yourself? Aren’t you more than the tears you’ve cried and the fear you’ve felt?…’ With an electronic reverbing beat and a powerful vocal that is used for encouragement and motivation, Jon’s delivery on ‘Made’ is heartfelt, using the bible verse of Psalm 139 as a basis of declaring to every listener that they are beautifully and wonderfully made. An affirming song that reminds us of the identity we have in Christ and to not lose sight of the worth of who we are; we are encouraged to take a stand and dispel the doubts and fears that tell us we’re not good enough, replacing them with the resounding truth of what our Father in heaven sees. A perfect song to be introduced as the title track, Made centres around identity and purpose, with Hawk Nelson delivering musically and lyrically to show listeners a refined and musically ingenious album that’s destined to be one of my favourite albums of the year, and perhaps one of my favourite albums of the decade (2010-2019) so far!
Overall: Hawk Nelson have delivered one of the strongest (lyrically and musically) albums of the year so far (alongside albums from Audio Adrenaline, Meredith Andrews, Jenny Simmons and Plumb) as we hear the music of a band without the signature vocals of Jason Dunn. With Jason recording his new project titled Abandon Progress to be released in May 2013, Hawk Nelson and their enthusiasm is just as much alive now as they were then when Jason was fronting the band. Jon Steingard is a great choice to succeed Jason, and their mission and vision about making thought-provoking music that captures the essence of what it means to live a Christian life has not wavered as we hear some of the most powerful and personal songs of their whole career. From the identity affirming ‘Made’ to the cautious and warning ‘Words’ that lets us know how much words can hurt and heal us, Made gives us 12 songs full of life, vibrancy and hope. Providing us with more of a dance-pop atmosphere in a similar musical vein as Britt Nicole or Audio Adrenaline, fans of the old Hawk Nelson ought to give this new Hawk Nelson a try, and be surprised about how much you enjoy the riffs and guitar hooks, as well as the emotional and uplifting songs that call us into our destiny and identity with Christ in us and beside us. A great album that is unique and different, without compromising on their faith and values, Hawk Nelson’s album (just like Audio Adrenaline’s comeback record) is certain to provide some media attention, as I declare Made to be my favourite album of the year so far! Well done Jon Steingard and the rest of the band for creating some of the most powerful songs of the year! Well done!
RIYL: Britt Nicole, Audio Adrenaline, The Afters, Kutless