Album Review :
Rend Collective - The Art Of Celebration

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Artist: Rend Collective
Title: The Art of Celebration
Label: Integrity Music
Release Date: 3/18/14
Reviewer: Jonathan Andre

Tracklisting:

  1. Joy
  2. Burn Like a Star
  3. My Lighthouse
  4. More Than Conquerors
  5. All That I Am
  6. Immeasurably More
  7. Finally Free
  8. Create in Me
  9. Strength of My Heart
  10. Simplicity
  11. Boldly I Approach (The Art of Celebration)
  12. My Lighthouse (Live)
  13. Joy (Remix)

‘…we would far rather be defined by joy, fun, freedom and laughter than any genre title or pop-culture label. The biggest clue as to what The Art of Celebration sounds like is in the title. We tried to make it sound like fun. It’s what the Psalmist calls, ‘a joyful noise’…’ Northern Irish band Rend Collective Experiment have breathed great new life into the British industry with their ingenious and intuitive albums Homemade Worship for Handmade People and Organic Family Hymnal, from their ballads like ‘Second Chance’, ‘You Bled’ and ‘The Cost’, to upbeat anthems ‘Praise Like Fireworks’, ‘Build Your Kingdom Here’ and ‘Movements’. Also releasing their highly acclaimed live album Campfire in early 2013, the band are now back once again, this time shortening their name and dropping the ‘experiment’ part- to deliver to us The Art of Celebration. As the above quote suggests, the album still follows the trademark acoustic/pop/folk/worship atmosphere that were shown in their previous albums, with their powerful single ‘My Lighthouse’ leading the way to promote this 13 track standout (possibly even one of my favourite worship albums since Phil Wickham’s The Ascension and Warr Acres’s Hope Will Rise). Though not as popular in America as they are in Great Britain, Rend Collective’s awe-inspiring approach to music, collectiveness, family and worship is enthusiastically expressed through their songs. As lead singer Garth Gilkeson explains it, …there are no outsiders in the Kingdom…worship is not exclusive or confined within the walls of a church…’; Rend Collective and their unique ability to inject fun, hope, joy and emotion into worship music is something that is much needed as this invigorating worship group sparks something different in a genre that continues to strive on radio marketability and songs for the church (which indirectly means songs with simple lyrics so that congregations can sing them, and songs with similar themes- Chris Tomlin or Hillsong anyone?). Full of soul, passion and emotive spirit, these 11 melodies, as well as ‘My Lighthouse (Live)’ and ‘Joy (Remix)’, are able to stir up a worshipper spirit as I reflect upon the community of the album. A standout album in March 2014 and the year as well, this folk band remind us that …this record is an attempt to reflect something of the irrepressible laughter in the heart of God. It’s a call to the cynical to once again choose celebration over condemnation and a reminder to the broken that the joy of the Lord is our strength…’

‘My Lighthouse’, the first radio single from the album which released in the beginning of 2014, is a song of hope, joy and declaration as Chris Llewellyn and the band inject a moment of fun in this 3 minute song about us declaring that God is our lighthouse- the light in our darkness, the hope in the midst of our despair. With acoustics, and other unique instruments (including a jingling jolly played by Garth Gilkeson), the band give us the courage to declare alongside them that ‘…in my wrestling and in my doubts, in my failures You won’t walk out, You’re great love will lead me through, You are the peace in my troubled sea…’ While the band seemingly never really bring us groundbreaking poignancy a la Andrew Peterson or Bebo Norman, their powerful vertical praise melodies together with their unique set of instruments make the band one of the most unique worship artists around today, and for me personally, alongside All Sons and Daughters, The Sonflowerz, Phil Wickham, Tim Hughes and David Crowder as one of the most powerful lyricists/worship artists currently active. Starting off the melody with some light acoustics, the song is a great marrying of modern contemporary worship meets Irish acoustic folk which the band has incorporated in many of their songs over the years. One of my favourite songs on the album, ‘My Lighthouse’ anchors The Art of Celebration musically, lyrically and thematically, as we are reminded through powerful vocals and an emotional plea that Christ is our lighthouse and anchor in times of trouble, and this indeed is reason to celebrate. Coupled with a colourful and ingenious music video which also released this year, as well as a live version of the song on the album, which captures the emotion from Chris quite nicely (even to the point where he sounds drastically similar to Bear Rinehart in voice- which is a good thing), the enthusiastic crowd declares alongside the band with their voices and hand claps to show their enjoyment and appreciation. One of my favourite songs of 2014 so far, ‘My Lighthouse’ will possibly be in my top 20 songs of the year when 2014 ends!

Another song which has two cuts on the album, track #1 ‘Joy’ is exactly what is needed for the album to start off with a sense of joyousness, happiness, and a fun-filled enthusiasm shown by Rend Collective as the song breathes life into our hearts and fills us with the theme of the track is about- joy. With a lovely acoustic guitar pick to bring the album to life, Rend Collective are able to make their intentions clear with what they want the first song (and album as well) to be about- ‘…we’re choosing celebration, breaking into freedom, You’re the song, You’re the song of our hearts…’ While at times the song can feel a little repetitious with all the ‘joy’s they declare out, what the song clearly does is remind us of a quality that we all need, and can and will never get enough of- joy. To be joyous is to be filled with the overflowing happiness, love and thanks for what we have experienced in our lives thus far- regardless of whether it is good or bad because we know that in Christ, all things will work together for our good. A call to place down our words of discouragement and replace them with celebrating life, love and the creator that gave us things to be thankful for, Rend Collective also deliver a remix to the melody, and quite fittingly place that song as the last track on the album- a sort-of symbolism as we see the album bookended by a theme and quality in our lives we constantly need each day. While I enjoyed the original song much better than the over-produced electronically busy melody, the song nevertheless is one song to remember and enjoy, and my pick to be a radio single in the future.

Enthusiasm pours out in ‘Burn Like a Star’, with acoustic guitars, jingling jolly’s, big drums and some great unique percussion instruments all join together and amass one giant orchestral-style beginning to a song that encourages us all to show our light and the love of Christ to everyone we meet, burning like a star in the sky so that when people see us, they can see Jesus. A song that encourages us to burn for Christ, the real thing in the midst of all the others things that may seemingly take our attention, Chris and Gareth show us a frenzied and energetic song, with us hopefully declaring alongside him, for God to ‘…burn like a star, light a fire in our hearts for your glory, for your fame…’  ‘More than Conquerors’ reminds me musically like a square or line dance as the music starts up, and while the song can take some time in getting used to musically, the lyrics are powerful and spot on by the band, as we immerse ourselves in the fact that in Christ, we are more than what the world tells us- we are conquerors, and so much more than that. With a rhythmic beat and powerful singing, the acoustically driven Chris Llewellyn led song is one of the most musically diverse and interesting tracks on the album, and together with ‘Burn Like a Star’, remind us that acoustic/folk/worship can easily be as enjoyable, if not more so, than the CCM/worship styles promoted more on radio stations like K-Love and Air1.

With hand claps and a more vocally driven presence, ‘All That I Am’ encourages us to be all that we can be in Christ, through surrendering everything we have ‘…for all that You are, my Lord, all that I have for all that You are…’, while ‘Immeasurably More’ slows down the tempo and encourages us to dwell in the fact that whatever we can know of Christ, there is infinitely and immeasurably more than we can fathom, just waiting for us to discover it as we dwell deeper in His presence. Co-written with Chris Tomlin, I probably won’t be surprised if Chris covered this melody on his new album- that’s how much of a ‘Chris Tomlin’ flavour this melody has- which isn’t a bad thing, it’s just something different and unique from Rend Collective. ‘Finally Free’, with an acoustic guitar in the verses yet with a powerful electric guitar strum in the chorus, paints us a picture of thankfulness in declaring out the words ‘…all hope is found in your mercy, You paid the price now I am, finally free…’, and while I’m sure the band tried their hardest with the song, I didn’t enjoy this melody as much as the songs before, even though this song in and of itself is a powerful anthem with what sounds like bagpipes, keyboards and gang vocals. I’m sure the band worked very hard on it, but the theme of us being free in Christ, is a theme of the song that has been done before by artists, namely Nichole Nordeman, in 2007 (with the song also being called ‘Finally Free’, and much more poignant and emotional). Despite this somewhat low point, the band speak about how we ought to long for God to create in us a work so unimaginable, poignant and powerful in the aptly and appropriately titled ‘Create In Me’. A song which I’m sure is inspired upon ‘Create in Me A Clean Heart’ by Keith Green, Rend Collective present to us a similar theme and a great homage to Keith and his music ministry in the heartfelt words of how we long for Christ to ‘…create in me a clean, clean heart, create in me a work of art, create in me a miracle, something real and something beautiful…’

Overall: From declaring that God is the strength from which our hearts withstand the times when we’re in the shadows and need to fight (‘Strength of My Heart’) and laying down our lives and understanding that it is in simplicity in our thoughts, and humbleness in our actions that we can be led to where Christ is and where He wants us to be (‘Simplicity’), to approaching God’s throne with a song of thanks and celebration (‘Boldly I Approach’); Rend Collective continue to assert their strong lyrical prowess, and while they have dropped their name ‘experiment’, they are still utilising their unique instrument set to provide us with powerful music and poignant lyrics to make this album a personal standout of mine in March 2014 so far. The album gives us a sense of celebration and collectiveness, both in worship and community, but also connecting with the songs as we hear some of the most poignant and relatable worship music in 2014. The Art of Celebration creates a great platform for albums to rise to in months to come. From the emotional ‘More than Conquerors’ that speaks of the boldness of following Christ and remembering that we are conquerors and heirs to the throne, to the first radio single; this is an album especially for those who love great modern alternate worship music, along the same musical lines of David Crowder, Bellarive, Leeland and The Digital Age. Alongside Bluetree and Delirious?; this is another band from the U.K. area where their influence has gone global. With more exposure in the U.S.; this is a band that will continue to reignite the passion of worship with their unique and different aspect on worship and how it can be delivered to listeners. A sense of realness and authenticity is created that will intrigue listeners to hear the songs from this amazing band. Well done guys for such a motivating and uplifting album!

RIYL: Bellarive, Delirious?, Bluetree, David Crowder*Band, needtobreathe

Buy the Album: iTunes/Amazon mp3

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