Artist: The Afters
Title: Life is Beautiful
Label: Fair Trade Services
Release Date: 4/16/13
Reviewer: Jonathan Andre
- Every Good Thing
- Breathe In, Breathe Out
- Broken Hallelujah
- Moments Like This
- Find Your Way
- Life is Beautiful
- Love is in the Air
- Believe (Waiting For an Answer)
- What We’re Here For
- With You Always
- In My Eyes
- This Life
With both their music videos for radio hits ‘Light Up the Sky’ and ‘Lift Me Up’ garnering close to 3 million views and 1.2 million views respectively, The Afters have been able to give listeners heartfelt songs full of enthusiasm and praise with many listeners testifying to their songs as being help in difficult and trying times. Since signing onto Fair Trade Services (originally INO Records) since their first album I Wish We All Could Win in 2005, the band has given us great uplifting and inspiring songs such as ‘Ocean Wide’, ‘Beautiful Love’, ‘You’, ‘Never Going Back to OK’, and more recently their two hits from 2012/13, ‘Every Good Thing’ and ‘Life is Beautiful’. Founded by guitarist Matt Fuqua and lead singer Josh Havens, it is their heartfelt songs and inspirational lyrics that gives testament to their poignant songwriting ability as well as their talent to create songs that speak to listeners in a motivational, comforting, yet also confronting way all at once. Now readying their 4th studio album release with Fair Trade Services, Life is Beautiful released a week early through via streaming on both Jesus Freak Hideout and New Release Tuesday, and in listening to the previews, I can boldly declare that Life is Beautiful is perhaps my favourite album by The Afters so far (granted, I’ve only fully listened to Light Up the Sky, and I’ve only heard a few songs here and there from their previous two releases). As Josh conveys the band’s heart behind the album, that ‘…He’s not just there on the sunny days. No matter what we go through in life, God is still with us and life is beautiful…’, we are reminded of the beautiful life Christ has given each and every one of us, and to not let our lives slip by without us realising and enjoying the company with our friends, our family and with our God with us always. While this album certainly departs from their indie-rock roots to more of a pop-electronic musical nature, their heart to write compelling songs still remain, from the edgy and upbeat ‘Every Good Thing’ that inspires us to see the good things in the world, to ‘Broken Hallelujah’, a potential radio single that shows us that even during our broken moments, praise be to God who is weaving everything that occurs in our lives to shape us into better people emotionally, spiritually, and everything else in between.
‘Every Good Thing’ is the first song (and first radio single) on the album, and is personally one of the most catchiest; upbeat, heartfelt and joyous songs that has released to radio in 2013. With handclaps and a light electric guitar riff, Josh declares that Christ is the maker and sustainer of every good thing in our lives that occurs, as we are reminded that ‘…it’s a beautiful life we live, I don’t want to miss the moments like this, this is a beautiful life You give…’ Sometimes as we become busier in our lives, we tend to forget and slow down to remember the great things we have in our lives- living in a great country with rights and privileges, as well as good family, friends and a God who cares for and undoubtedly showers His love over us. Musically as ‘Every Good Thing’ delves into dance-pop in a similar way to Britt Nicole’s ‘Gold’, we are shown a melody that is catchy and infectiously poignant as well as one that reminds us in a happy pop-like way to not forget the places and people in our lives that enhance it in every way. As we sometimes unintentionally focus on the things that go wrong in our lives, this is a helpful reminder to shift our focus towards ‘every good thing’. While many may complain that The Afters have travelled more along the CCM road to leave their indie-rock roots behind and become a band just like every other CCM radio heavy band, ‘Every Good Thing’ is nevertheless a great song for me personally as I reflect upon and thank God for the great things He has done in my life. As Josh Havens lets the listeners know that ‘…we’re reminded every day of how many bad things there are in life, so we wanted to write a reminder of how much God is capable of doing…’, ‘Every Good Thing’ is the result, a song that’s destined to be, like ‘Light Up the Sky’ and ‘Lift Me Up’ before it, a classic song amidst the entire song and album discography of The Afters. Well done Josh, Matt and the rest of The Afters for giving me one of my favourite songs on Life is Beautiful.
While ‘Every Good Thing’ is one of the few upbeat melodies on the record, it is always a strong point of The Afters to create reflective melodies that speak to the soul, with songs like ‘Broken Hallelujah’, ‘With You Always’, ‘Believe (Waiting For an Answer)’ and the title track ‘Life is Beautiful’ some of the lesser upbeat songs yet equally poignant and heartfelt tracks on The Afters’ fourth album that are able to speak to our hearts and challenge and motivate us to become better people as we continuously and fervently rely more of Christ every day. ‘Believe (Waiting For an Answer)’ is a result of lead singer Josh praying through his son’s struggles with a punctured lung he received during the birthing process, with Josh praying ‘…that God would turn my trials into testimonies…’ Also for many other listeners who may struggle with the questions of ‘why’ during the difficult circumstances they may face, the piano prominent melody (with light percussion and a powerful lead vocal from Josh as he lays down and gives one of the most powerful and personal songs on the album) gives us an honest portrayal of the struggling we all may have, as Josh relays that ‘…the more it hurts, the more I need of You, the more I search, the more I see of You, I don’t have to know how to see You turn this around, to believe in You…’ A test of faith and trust during the tough times we all certainly face, this melody is destined to become a hope and comfort to many with its personal nature as we are reminded that we are not alone in our hurt and grief in the world. ‘With You Always’ is another comforting song for the listener who may feel like they are alone in their hurt, with Josh reminding us all that even in the moments when we can’t feel Him, He is with us always. Something so simply known can be easily forgotten in the moment, and while not necessarily the most ingenious in terms of musicality or even lyrical sophistication, ‘With You Always’ is another favourite of mine that speaks volumes about the nearness of Christ despite what emotion tell us in the moment of our difficulties.
The title track released last year as part of a promotional single for a pro-life movie October Baby, ‘Life is Beautiful’ is clear in its intent and purpose- to declare using great metaphors and poetic nuances that our lives are beautiful and to not forget it. With synths and a striking drum, the song builds up to a crescendo, and while the melody may not be overtly Christian in its content, the Lord still speaks through the bridge in particular (for me) as Josh reminds us that ‘…a father’s love, a wedding dance, New Year’s dreams, a toast with friends, a soldier coming home from war, the faith the hope of so much more, a brand new life, a mother’s prayer, shooting stars, ocean air, a lover’s kiss, and hard goodbyes, fireworks, Christmas lights, these are things that make us feel alive…’ As we are reminded of the moments in our own lives where we can pinpoint the Lord’s presence, we see that our lives are sometimes much more beautiful as shown from God to us than we can ever see or even realise. Similarly reflective and emotive, ‘Broken Hallelujah’, written in response to the Colorado bushfires in 2012, is about the moment when everything else is burnt away and you are just left in the moment where you let the Lord know that even with nothing left, we can still raise our hands and declare the broken hallelujahs towards Him, and though broken, they are indeed real, raw, hopeful, painful and often in praise to a God who has never left our side, despite what others or even ourselves may sometimes think. Certain to become a radio single sometime over the next year or so, the epic build of the electric guitars and the hope the words bring of how ‘…I’ve seen joy, and I’ve seen pain and on my knees I call Your name, here’s my broken hallelujah…’ and how it brings comfort as we trust the God who holds everything together, Josh delivers one of the most lyrically profound songs on Life is Beautiful. Kudos to The Afters for once again giving us songs that can relate to us as we see melodies like ‘Every Good Thing’, ‘Life is Beautiful’ and ‘Broken Hallelujah’ anchor the album and thereby promote it to be one of the standout CCM albums released during April 2013!
‘Love is In the Air’ is a love song that has the potential to chart on mainstream radio as The Afters employ a dance pop atmosphere as we are reminded of a love between two people Christ has destined to be together is so strong that nothing in the world can tear them apart. As Josh reminds us that ‘…love is in the air tonight, love is everywhere tonight, moving through my heart like the wind, I come alive as I breathe it in…’, we can’t help but sing along to this catchy song about love in the most basic form- being in connection, friendship and comrade with those around us. The Afters continue their fun and bubbly musical ingeniousness with ‘Breathe In, Breathe Out’, oozing musical ingeniousness through percussion looping and electronic sounds as Josh delivers a message about slowing down the rush we can all have inside of us as we make decisions now that will count towards our happiness instead of waiting and procrastinating until the ‘right’ time; while ‘What We’re Here For’ calls us to move beyond self-gratification as we are called out through this contemporary pop song full of strong electric guitars that ‘…this is what we’re here for, to show the world how You love it…when we feel useless, You still use us, oh help us not forget…’
The Afters continue to push musical boundaries in ‘In My Eyes’ as the band gives listeners striking drums and reverbing guitars as they show a riveting anthem sung from God’s point of view (or it could be potentially sung from a friend to another). As Josh poetically cries out that ‘…in my eyes, you’re more than complete, you’re perfect to me if you could only see the way that you shine…’, we are given a clear indication of how much Christ values us as His children. Together with ‘Find Your Way’ (which also paints a picture of value and worth as Josh reminds us from God’s POV that ‘…you’re never too lost to know where the road is…but I’ll wait til you find your way back home…’) The Afters show us that we are never too far from the grace God gives us- unconditional and without reproach. The message of transientness displayed in album closer ‘This Life’ also encourages us to stand and live our lives to the full with no regrets as we follow Christ’s lead and with this album already encouraging listeners around the world through the JFH and NRT streams; The Afters have delivered some of the most personal, powerful and poetic albums they’ve ever done. An inspiring end to an album that sets us on a journey of discovering life in all its beauty all the while knowing that our own lives are fleeting as we need to capture moments while we can (as emphasised on the song ‘Moments Like This’); Life is Beautiful continues to impress as I declare this album (along with Kerrie Robert’s Time For the Show, Josh Wilson’s Carry Me and Hawk Nelson’s Made) to be among the frontrunners for Pop/Contemporary Album of the Year at the Dove Awards of 2014!
Overall: The Afters’ fourth album release with Fair Trade Services gives us a great reminder of life and all the moments that make living it beautiful with an album that’s personally going to be within the top 10 albums released during 2013. From the pop single ‘Every Good Thing’ to the emotional and poignant title track and the heartfelt and uplifting ‘Broken Hallelujah’, we are given 12 songs destined to be in the hearts and sung on the lips of many listeners of the band, long-time fans and newer fans alike. As we are challenged by this album to dive into our own lives and make sure that the beautiful moments of them aren’t left to be forgotten and be replaced by the mundane and often repetitive; songs of hope and encouragement are shown as Josh, Matt, Jordan and Dan from Dallas, Texas encourage us to live our lives head on to experience the wonder and beauty set before us by God our Father and Friend. A conglomeration of musical genres- from pop to dance and slower reflective ballads, fans of The Afters and their previous work, or even fans of other artists like Sanctus Real, Kutless and Jeremy Camp; will certainly enjoy the new album of Life is Beautiful. Certainly one of Fair Trade Services’ strong representatives alongside MercyMe, Phil Wickham and Audio Adrenaline; The Afters have carved a name for themselves as a band that’s willing to give us songs that dig deep within and allow for us to confront our deepest feelings with Christ within us! Well done guys for a great album and one that will be highlighted by me personally, as one of the best CCM releases in April 2013!
RIYL: Kutless, Jeremy Camp, Sanctus Real, Audio Adrenaline
Buy the Album: iTunes/Amazon mp3