Title: Who Can Know It?
Release Date: 10/16/2010
Reviewer: Joshua Hedlund
- A Man With A Hammer
- I Never Liked Anyone And I’m Afraid Of People
- Dear Music
- The Prison Comes Undone
- Myth Of A Christian Nation
- You’re Like A Taxi
- Time To Go
- The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things
A lot has changed for Showbread in the last year. They fulfilled their obligations with Tooth & Nail and decided to take a leap of faith with former label friend Chad Johnson and his ministry-focused non-profit “label” Come&Live! They’ve sounded pretty excited about their new direction and new album in all of the various interviews, tweets, and assorted marketings that have issued forth in recent months. We know Showbread doesn’t care what we think of their ever-evolving sound, but just what does that sound, well, sound like?
At first impression, Who Can Know It? doesn’t sound very exciting at all. It’s not just that it’s “slow” with “no screaming” – Showbread has done plenty of ballad-like songs in the past. What’s odd is the lack of emotion that seems to accompany some of these new ones. Many of the first few tracks are pulled along by plain synth and guitar chords that show none of the raucous talent we’ve come to expect. And I’m not sure what happened to Garrett’s keytar. (I guess dwindling to a four-piece has its challenges.) But the passionless vocals of Josh Dies are the most baffling. He sings in the low part of his range, restricting himself almost monotonically to very few notes, and the words come out so slowly that it’s hard to imagine much interest behind them.
It seems Showbread almost takes a strange delight in frustrating their fans’ expectations for the sake of creating the art that they want. That’s something I respect to a point, but it doesn’t mean I automatically like listening to it, and it’s hard to enjoy some of these songs when it feels like the band itself isn’t very excited about them.
By the time I got to the third song, “Dear Music,” where he tells the recipient, “I’ve lost all interest in almost every thing that you do,” I really believed him, wondering if this was all some painful, deliberate ruse that wouldn’t stop. I thought it felt like the last song on The Fear of God if it were to drone on for twenty or thirty minutes, or, for you older fans, like the first verse of “Matthias Replaces Judas” endlessly idling, never revving up and into the climax. I knew they were going for ballads, but I felt like “Sing Me to Sleep” had more emotion than any three of these tracks put together.
But now for the good news. The lyrics are strong enough to make you forget about the musical zombie. Recurring Showbread themes of falling and forgiveness are prevalent in songs like “A Man With A Hammer” and “Deliverance.” “The Prison Comes Undone” poetically declares, “I hear when Jesus tells me that I need to bite my tongue / and my teeth, they try to cage it, but the prison comes undone.”
Furthermore, the album gets better as it progresses. “You’re Like A Taxi,” a metaphorical message for Death, creates varying atmospheres as the band’s harmonies beautifully sing, “When I die, whatever you might say, don’t say I’m gone / Gone is not the word for someone who finally found his way back home.” “Time to Go,” with its lullaby-like piano lines, may actually be the prettiest song Showbread has ever written. And they’re still doing that Epic Closer thing (some things haven’t changed). “The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things” sets its pace with a cool electric click as it kicks into its elongated eleven minutes about sin, truth, and redemption (what else?).
The only slight misstep is the provocatively-titled “Myth of A Christian Nation,” which is not so much a debate about the beliefs of our forefathers as it is a jab at the modern antics of uber-patriotic Christians. I understand the sheeplike misunderstandings that they’re reacting against, but the biting satire feels incomplete, like it’s criticizing the unloving without loving them back (something Josh has talked about struggling with and striving for). Besides, the kinder lyrics of “Deliverance” are sufficient for that message.
But the album as a whole doesn’t feel so bad. And on repeated listens, even the beginning doesn’t sound so slow or painful. Check out that slapping bass! Check out that mid-tempo rhythm! And, hey, maybe Josh’s notes actually span a whole octave on a couple songs! It’s a bit like the audio version of stepping into a dark cave on a bright sunny day… once my senses adjusted to the new landscape, I could suddenly “see” all the interesting details. How did I ever think the second track was boring? How did I ever think the repeated ending phrase on the third song was emotionless when it’s got these cool multi-layered harmonies going on? Suddenly the zombie was a healthy, living human – albeit a calm and tranquil one.
This isn’t totally uncharted territory for the band, either – remember “The Sky (Alpha)” from Anorexia? If you like that song, it’s a good mood-setter for enjoying this album. I still think Josh’s vocals just don’t sound as good when he limits himself like that, but Showbread proves they can get away with it for at least a whole album. And there must be something catchy about the melodies because they’ve been getting stuck in my head.
Overall: I guess I just don’t really know how to respond to this new, strange creature of the Raw Rock Ballad. Unlike the instant punk-rock catchiness of the last album, this one’s going to take a few months to sink into my being and lead to an overall worthwhile opinion. Maybe taking their sound and stretching it through an awkward time warp is the most brilliant thing they’ve ever done, and one day I’ll say it’s their strongest work yet. There are already fans declaring it their worst and best album to date, respectively, but what Showbread album hasn’t been treated to that reception? If you’re lamenting this album’s non-intensity maybe you’re missing the point that this album is not supposed to be about intensity. Rather than remake the same album, Showbread snatches whatever genre they feel like and makes it their own. You’ll just have to decide for yourself if you like this one.