Album Review :
The City Harmonic - Heart

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Artist: The City Harmonic
Title: Heart
Label: Integrity Music
Release Date: 9/3/13
Reviewer: Jonathan Andre

Tracklisting:

  1. Here and There
  2. Praise the Lord
  3. Strong
  4. Take Heart
  5. Alive, Alive
  6. Love, Heal Me
  7. Songs of Longing, Joy and Peace
  8. Glory
  9. A City on a Hill
  10. Live Love
  11. 1 + 1
  12. Long Walk Home
  13. Brand New
  14. My Jesus, I Love Thee

…if you stop and think about the role an ‘image’ or ‘statue’ might play in a temple, you begin to see that we humans have quite a role to play. Whatever our present circumstances, the biggest challenge before us is to recognize that in Christ we’ve been given the responsibility and capacity to become like Him, and as we do, we are becoming exactly the kind of humans we were meant to be from the beginning…’ Canadian band The City Harmonic burst onto the American CCM and worship music scene in 2011, with their full length album I Have a Dream and featuring the title track as the hit first radio single. Now releasing their brand new album Heart on Integrity Music as a worldwide release on September 3rd; this band touted as the Christian version of Brit-Rock band Coldplay have been able to write once again from personal experience to deliver 14 songs full of heart, hope, honesty and optimism. With their 2011 album being widely acclaimed (I Have a Dream won numerous JUNO Awards), this forthcoming album continues to travel along the path set by the album they released previously, encompassing the themes of humanity as shown by Christ to us. With the band also co-producing the album, their first radio single ‘A City on a Hill’ provides us with a great snapshot with what Heart will be like- a worshipful sound with a hint of CCM and radio serviceability, while serving a unique way for us to remember an take truth in the Sermon on the Mount, the basis and underlying lyrical message of ‘A City on a Hill’. A must purchase for any fan of Coldplay who loves Christian music, as well as fans of similar Brit-pop/rock style artists like Rend Collective, All Sons and Daughters and Delirious?; The City Harmonic showcase some of the most powerful songs they’ve written and recorded throughout their music career, with the album hopefully being an album standout in September 2013!

‘A City on a Hill’ is the first radio single from the album, and while it’s a step back from the indie-rock-worship musical atmosphere we have found from their first album to accommodate a somewhat more CCM sounding musical backdrop, the band still deliver a great song that’s biblically grounded in the Sermon on the Mount, and more specifically, the Beattitudes. With a light keyboard introduction full of reverb and synth, lead singer Elias Dummer declares that we are blessed in the sight of the Lord, regardless of whether we mourn, are weak, in need of comfort or frankly just exhausted and tired from a day’s work. Reminding listeners that we are indeed blessed even if we may not necessarily feel like we’re worthy of being blessed, The City Harmonic challenge us to use the platform we have as citizens of Christ to further the kingdom of God by shining our light and love of Christ like how a city shines on a hill with the light it also has been given. As Elias shares that …‘A City On A Hill’ takes the high concept view of Christ and brings it down to earth in the form of the very things he said in the Sermon on the Mount…’; we are able to hear a song that simplifies the passage spoken by Jesus, but also not watering down its prominent and crucial message of coming together as believers in God to show it to others by living out the Beattitudes, both to fellow Christians and non-Christians alike. As we are able to embody and project the things that God deems to be important in our lives (mercy, purity, ability to make peace, a great leader and also great follower), we can be certain that others will hear, follow, listen, and hopefully be encouraged to change also. Just like how a city doesn’t hide its light from others who come closer to it to see if there’s anything new, interesting or even helpful in the place; God also longs for us to not let whatever’s in us to fall by the wayside. A song that challenges us to live out what we declare; ‘A City on a Hill’ is a call to action, as we collectively proclaim that ‘…we will shine, light of the world, we can’t hide it, this beautiful light it shines for all of the world to believe we can be a city on a hill…’

The City Harmonic have always been a band that loves to experiment with musical sounds to create a soundscape full of emotion to convey what the singer is feeling during a particular moment of the song. And while all of the songs on Heart all remind us that it is when we are in tune with the heart of God that we can truly find out what He longs for us to be and accomplish, it is the song ‘Love, Heal Me’ that is perhaps the most honest and heartfelt melody delivered on the album. While only standing at a little over 2 minutes, Eric Fusilier, bass guitarist, sings out this melody full of vulnerability and brokenness. Diagnosed with cancer last year, Eric’s battle has been a personal one, at times feeling weak in a physical and emotional sense. This song on Heart captures all of that, at times unveiling the weak nature of Eric through his voice and vocal range. As we see the desperation and humble nature of Eric as he declares that ‘…’cause You are God, You heal all things, Your name is Love, so Love, heal me…’, we are able to pray alongside Eric for his health, but also declare as well that God still reigns and is our Healer and Provider, even if we are in the moments when we believe God heals but we haven’t seen the healing yet. While this song is the only song not sung by Elias, ‘Love, Heal Me’ is also a frontrunner to hopefully be a standout in live concerts when Eric hopefully joins them again on the Newsboys Restart tour.

With so many parallels (musically and vocally) between The City Harmonic and Coldplay, listeners are invited to experience an album full of unique and powerful music and lyrical moments that remind us of the hearts we have to love unconditionally with the Lord’s love inside of us as we tackle each day in His presence. ‘Take Heart’ is an invitation starting off with a light keyboard riff as Elias unveils that he’s ‘…lost in a moment of doubt cause my whole world is turning upside-down…’ Something that we all could relate to, there are (and will be) moments in our lives when doubt creeps in. Through the lightly strummed electric guitar and the powerful drum beats, the band provide comfort and encouragement in the two simple yet equally profound words ‘take heart’, a message that shows that we ought to hold on, because we know in our own hearts that Christ advocates for us in our corner, already overcoming sin and death so that what we face is only trivial compared to the enduring of Christ on the cross for us. Arguably my favourite song on the album (aside from ‘A City on a Hill’), Elias and the rest of the band finish off the melody just as strong as they start it, with the comforting and powerful words that ‘…the Son of God, You calm the seas that rage inside the heart of me, the heart of God is what I need, You’ve overcome the world…’; something that’ll hopefully impact us in months and years to come.

‘Alive, Alive’ delivers some strong drum beats and powerful keyboard chords with Elias gruffly reminds us that it’s ok to admit we’re not ok, and that it’s alright to feel like we’re not alright on some days. But rather than end there at a bleak moment in the song, Elias further delivers that regardless of what happens in our lives, ‘…I’m up from the grave, I’m alive, that’s what He’s done for me…’, a testament to God’s unending grace that further enhances this song, which is a great companion to ‘Take Heart’, and ought to be listened together if given the chance. ‘Praise the Lord’ is a three minute worship song that pays homage to the themes discussed in Matt Redman’s ‘Blessed Be Your Name’, with the band declaring the words ‘…praise the Lord, in every moment…’, something that can be easy during the easy times, yet extremely difficult during the hard ones. With the band having a knack to hit the nail on the hammer without beating around the bush, this song is one of them that is as vulnerable as they come; with Elias hopefully motivating listeners to declare the name of the Lord even louder with the words for us to ‘…praise the Lord: though it might take blood, sweat and tears in your eyes, there is grace for today so praise the Lord…’ With the band also inviting us to partake in the songs ‘Strong’ (written by Eric during the height of his cancer) and ‘Here and There’, the third and first songs on the album respectively that speak about honouring the Lord’s strength and declaring that ‘…when I am weak You’re strong…’ (‘Strong’) and giving a grateful reminder that God is forever, and the one who was and is and is to come (‘Here and There’); the first 6 songs are arguably the strongest batch of songs on any album ever since Philippa Hanna’s first 6 songs on Through the Woods!

‘Songs of Longing, Joy and Peace’ is a 28 second pre-cursor to the 3 minute guitar driven hard-hitting melody of ‘Glory’. With both songs reminding us that as we understand God’s sacrifice for us, we can’t help but sing out songs of glory to Him, we are met with a melody infused with Mexican music infused influences as Elias and a choir of backing vocalists declare out that ‘…like a crash of lightning, shine a light for all to see, singin’ glory, glory, to God be the glory…’ An anthem that’s not your simple CCM-like worship melody a la Chris Tomlin, but employs the techniques of other unique and experimental bands like All Sons and Daughters and Rend Collective Experiment, I can see ‘Glory’ being extended from a 3 minute song to even longer when it is performed live in their forthcoming concerts. ‘Live Love’ portrays a sober truth that love doesn’t necessarily come as free as we’d think to believe, but for God to lay down everything, including Jesus, to bridge the gap between us and Him, then love costs everything He had, and therefore ought to have a similar meaning to us as well. Just over 3 minutes, Elias powerful asserts that ‘…if we live love we are like a love letter from the heart of God who loves like no other…’, reminding us that if we love like Jesus loved to those we meet, our light inside of us will hopefully impact our family, friends and everyone we converse with, depositing seeds of hope and encouragement in their lives as both our hearts and theirs are impacted simultaneously. At to this theme the lyrically rich album enders of the string and synth emphasised ‘1 + 1’, the acoustically stripped back ‘Brand New’, and the acoustic guitar driven ‘Long Walk Home’; each providing us with the themes about unity with Christ (‘1 + 1’), thankfulness to the Lord that He is walking beside us in our daily walk with Him (‘Long Walk Home’), as well as prayerfully declaring out that it is in Christ that we are made brand new (‘Brand New’); this Canadian four-piece band has taken every listener who has heard them (either live or studio albums) captive, with their soul-like vocal presence by Elias as well as their Brit-Rock infused musical backdrop throughout each of the tracks.

Overall: The City Harmonic exploded onto the Christian music scene in 2011 with their hits ‘Manifesto’ and ‘It Feels Like Home (I Have a Dream)’. Now two years later, the band has once again delivered a hard-hitting alternative worship album that’s certain to please listeners of similarly themed and musically styled artists, like fans of All Sons and Daughters, Rend Collective Experiment, Delirious? or David Crowder*Band. While The City Harmonic still hasn’t really been as popular as other worshipful artists like Chris Tomlin, Tim Hughes or Hillsong; the band still provides us with lyrical and musical prowess and genius as I declare this album to be within the top 20 albums of 2013 so far. Full of hope, wonder, encouragement and comfort, these four men from Canada have proven to us that Canadians are just as good as Americans at delivering music (think Hawk Nelson, Manafest, Newworldson, Love and the Outcome, Thousand Foot Krutch), and that you don’t have to live and be in Nashville, Tennessee, the music capital of the world, to deliver powerful and compelling music. With this album being my favourite album released in September so far (granted, it’s only been a day or so into the month, hopefully I’ll enjoy releases from Newsboys, Dara Maclean, Matt Redman and Phil Wickham); Heart is an album to treasure as the year comes to a close in a few months. Well done Elias and the rest of the band for providing us with great songs to either sing corporately in worship, or used to reflect upon as we hopefully better ourselves to be the cities on hills that God longs for each and everyone one of His children to be!

RIYL: Delirious?, David Crowder*Band, Rend Collective Experiment, All Sons and Daughters, Coldplay

Buy the Album: iTunes/Amazon mp3

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