The downside to being involved in music “news” is there’s a certain urgency to be the first to the plate with coverage on new releases. Full transparency – my involvement is fully of volunteer nature. But I do prefer to cover releases when they’re most timely and need the boost. The obvious drawback in instances where I don’t have a pre-release copy is that I have to make make some quick judgments. Typically I can glean through things pretty quickly nonetheless. But I know that I surely won’t be able to do J Lind’s latest effort the full justice it needs here.
The Land of Canaan is a sprawling 47-minute concept album. Among its 15 tracks, several interludes convey the story of the would-be sacrifice of Isaac. Lyrically, and this is arguably the biggest area I’d want to press in more, the album juggles with themes of Genesis and God’s promises and provisions. Canaan is simultaneously the fulfillment of Israel’s homesickness and the object of their collective terror. Of course, this is somewhat described in the manner of parable. There’s deeper personal, social, and philosophical commentary here than a casual listen might suggest. But even so, the surface reading alone is compelling enough: we easily forget faith and life are journeys.
Appropriately, so is this album. You might even say it’s an adventure. Lind is certainly an established artist in his own right, but for the uninitiated, think of Andrew Peterson and Silicone Boone. Both lyrically and musically, this record is thoughtful and immersive. You might call it folk or chamber pop, but either way, these tracks are a soft stampede of meek dynamic. Though perhaps small in stature, they manage to cast much larger shadows.
The album’s first proper track, “Demons”, sets the stage: a bit of a barren, alt-country vibe paired with lyrical ruminations of media consumption (with a casual nod to Super Size Me), and rejecting the land of milk and honey for kale and couscous. It’s the juxtaposition of the traditional and orthodox against an ever-changing world of instant gratification. It would seem faith doesn’t satisfy as it should, so we chase for easier fixes. And it’s at this point that I knew I had to buckle up. If this is where the journey begins, it’s surely going to be a fascinating one.
“Birthright” kicks up the energy quite a bit, adding in some programmed drums for a sound that’s still decidedly folk but has a bit of pop flair all the same. Lyrically, there are references to Samson, Jesus, Pilate, and Jacob. The central theme seems to revolve around sacrificing eternity for what’s convenient and immediate. And while artists like Beautiful Eulogy have approached this topic already, Lind tackles it delicately.
The next highlight comes with “Tangerine Skins”. This Sufjan Stevens-esque track recounts a road trip through the wilderness. It’s the apex of the album’s earthiness. Here, the lyrics are, at least at a glance, more biographical. The concepts aren’t as abstract or metaphysical; instead, we’re greeted with the beauty and wonder of the immediate. That’s not to say it’s at odds with the previous tracks, though.
“No Foundation (Part III)” is vulnerable and raw, with emotion dripping from Lind’s voice on every note. It’s a track that build carefully, but again it’s a case of Lind’s ability to magnify the experience. There may as well be a full crescendo with drums and trumpets, but those aren’t necessary. Even in its simplicity, “No Foundation (Part III)” feels like a punch in the throat.
“Lean Into It” is perhaps the most Andrew Peterson-like track. Ecclesiastical themes float over a base of toms and piano. It’s triumphant and bright, even though hints of sadness and pain can be seen.
The record closes on “The Best”, a song whose upbeat tonality seems to eclipse that many of the lyrics describe the death of Christ. A backing chorus cycles through a refrain of “Agnus Dei” before the album comes to an end. Just like that, things are over. But as Lind himself has said regarding the release, “There is no arriving”. We don’t see the Promised Land reclaimed or all the questions answered or deconstruction and reconstruction. We get glimpses of these things. But ultimately, we get Jesus, which is far greater.