I used to love David Crowder* Band. As time passed and I went back to listen to DCB, I realized that I didn’t really love their music, I loved a few really interesting moments in their music. Those moments when they let go of the typical chords and overused lyrics, and did something musically interesting. This was most evident on their more conceptual albums. When I looked at those songs that really stood out, I noticed they were always written by the guitarist of the band. So, when the band minus Crowder started recording as “The Digital Age” I was hopeful. I hoped that they would expound on these moments of greatness from their run with David Crowder, and do something epic, unique, and deep. When they announced the pre-orders, I immediately went for it and then forgot about it until today, when I received an email reminding me that I had in fact pre-ordered the album, and that my pre-order entitled me to stream the entire album early. I just finished listening through (mind you on lower quality streams, not HQ audio files) and here is what i thought of the asterisks first attempt on their own.
1. The structure is predictable.
Every time I would hear a IV chord followed by a I, I would hope that they would do something unique. Then the V would come, and I would still hope that they would change things up at the end. And every damn time that Minor iv would show its head, mocking me, bringing me back to 2005 when Hillsong United was “revolutionizing” worship by drenching it in delay and power bridges. My first big issue with this album very rarely does it do anything interesting. The chord progressions are all super basic and typical. The same can be said for the structures of the songs. I could excuse the Hillsong staple verse chorus verse chorus SUPER BRIDGE THAT EVERYONE KNOWS!!!! pattern once. But then it happened again. And again. The composition seems so calculated. Like, they want to write songs that youth groups will use in their worship sets for years to come. Except they are 8 years late to the party. Not a single song on this album would be out-of-place on “United We Stand”. Just add a little Australian accent and I would believe this to be a Hillsong album. Now, granted this is not bad, it’s just disappointing. For whatever reason, I always believed that there was something different in these musicians, just waiting to be let loose. I really hoped that Evening:Morning would be that place. Also, they twice do the “VIva La Vida put a two-minute interlude at the end of a song without separating them” nonsense. Both times, this second part to the song has no connection to the original song, and ends up feeling arbitrary. They are cool, but i wish they would have been developed into their own things, instead of being tacked on to the end of another song.
2. The musicality is (at times) interesting.
I will give them this, their arrangements get interesting. This is also the area that the streams most hinder this band, because I know there is a lot going on in these songs, but I can’t hear it all, because it gets lost in the compression. Hopefully, the full quality album will sound much clearer. That being said, there are some really cool sounds used on this album. I actually really like the “Falling Up” esque vocal processing that shows up around “Overcome”. I wish the programming was more apparent throughout the whole album, because the songs with more of that electronic sound are by far the strongest songs on the album. This album actually has a lot going for it musically. Songs like Captured, All the Poor and Powerless, and Overcome have some really cool orchestral sounds that really take the music to the next level, but they are between songs like Symphony of Grace and Your Name, which feel overdone and forgettable. The last three songs are also really weak, musically. They just feel like they are there to make the album 12 songs, and I had a hard time finding any really identifying characteristics.
3. The Lyrics are boring.
Guys. We don’t need to keep rehashing 20 year old praise lyrics. People like Michael Gungor have shown us that you don’t have to use the same 15 phrases in every worship song. I feel like if worship music is ever going to progress, we need to get out of this overly simplistic, preachy, lyricism. I like the focus on grace and love, but it seems shallow. I feel like these are really deep and intensely important ideas, but they end up becoming buzz words and chants that lose almost all meaning. Through the Night is the one exception to this (this is my favorite song, BTW). Now, I will I have not taken a deep look at the lyrics (so there could be some deeper themes i am missing), but the overuse of boring, fluffy language and tired analogies are symptoms of a disease that I feel is hurting the idea of worship music. a musical expression of worship does not need to be easy, affirming, and happy. It can be heavy. It can be deep. It can be doubtful and angry. For the most part, the lyrics on this album are just more Jesus is my Boyfriend pop love songs, and I am really tired of this kind of lyricism. David used rich poetry and powerful emotion in the psalms, why can’t we?
All in all, this album is a step in the right direction, but its a small one. It has some high points (Through the Night, Believe) but it also has quite a few low points (Symphony of Grace, Break Every Chain). Some of the best songs are the ones they have been doing since their first youtube videos. The arrangements are more interesting than the most mainstream worship dudes, but it’s still the same progressions and lyrics, just with a cool new wardrobe. It doesn’t suck, but it is far from great. I was really hoping for more.