Monday, July 27, 2015

One Wild Life: Soul

Ahead of it's release, Relevant is streaming Gungor's latest album, One Wild Life: Soul. It actually marks the beginning of a trilogy--Soul, Spirit, and Body.  Gungor actually took inspiration from the format of Ryan O'neil's (aka Sleeping at Last) creative style - that of minimal touring or promotion, and spending nearly all of their energy and resources on artistic creation while also restraining themselves to a thematic project.  So, inspired by Mary Oliver's "The Summer Day" and the question it raises, Gungor aims to offer an answer spanning this trilogy of upcoming albums.

Stylistically here, Gungor has opted more for contemporary synths and beats and less for their previous acoustic sound.  Having emerged slowly over their last few albums as a lead vocalist, Lisa Gungor effectively takes the role even more often.  She leads the album's eponymous track and the song leaves breathing space for her soft quotation of Mary Oliver: "what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"  Among others, she leads on the ethereal "Moon Song" and "At Sea" as well as duetting harmonically with Michael on "Light" and "Vapor."  Her maternal presence comes through clearly in "Moon Song" and even more so on "Light," a song dedicated their daughter Lucie (meaning light) who has downs syndrome.  She explains their journey beautifully here and the song reflects the delight with which they parent.  In fact, their recently released music video for the track is comprised entirely of home videos.

The social activist facet of Gungor is overt here in a number of ways.  On first listening to "We are Stronger," I'll admit I found the first half trite.  Even now, I find the peppy "We are better together" rather childish sounding--and yet, the second half of the song is so honestly gripping that I can't skip the track.  Here, they use the bridge to whisper-sing over a choral arrangement:
Every black life matters
Every woman matters
Every soldier matters
All the unborn matter
Every gay life matters
Fundamentalists matter
Here's to life and all it's branches
They finesse these ideals further on the later track "Us For Them." Both a beautiful treatise on breaking down divisions as well as a response to last year's backlash against Gungor because (gasp!) they shared they weren't convinced by Young Earth Creationism.  Reminiscent of U2's "there is no them, there's only us" ("Invisible"), this unifying, anthemic piece affirms:
We will not fight their wars,
We will not fall in line
'Cause when it's us or them,
It's us for them
We reject the either/or
They can't define us anymore
'Cause when it's us or them,
It's us for them...
These types of moments are certainly not new for Gungor (see "God is not a White Man"), but as they've become both more artistically nuanced and more lyrically frank, they appear to echo the frustrations many younger adults have with the current state of the Evangelical Church, but they move past defiance into much broader questions.

Their eerily beautiful "Am I"--an apparent inversion of YHWH's name, to which it finally resolves--haunts with both philosophically and personally familiar questions.  It echoes many of the statement's of "I am Mountain" in obverse as questions (e.g. "am I the stars?").  He seems to constrain a scream asking "am I a dream? am I memory?" before turning falsetto to ask "am I awake? am I okay?" The song is one that could appear simple but is, in actuality, fundamental.

Although often wrestling with millenial frustrations or metaphysical questions, they also reach for the soul's true home.  Many songs touch on the mythic or mystic - as the "here's to life and all it's branches" recalls Axis Mundi.  In "Land of the Living," a cover of Matthew Perryman Jones' 2012 single from an album of the same name, they draw in all sort's of imagery of the Promised Land.

The album's finale, "Vapor," matches the sacred finishing touches to their previous two studio albums--"Every Breath" on 2011's Ghosts upon the Earth (which happens to be one of my iTunes Library's 25 most played) and "Upside Down" from 2013's I am Mountain.  Like most of the album, this song circles the holiness of the Divine and erstwhile thinness of life this side of the veil--"the vapor of it all... the beauty of it all..."--to conclude in the marriage of Creator and creation:
Come like dawn
like grace
like sunlight
Bring this world to life
Come like rain
like breath
like springtime
Bring this world to life...

One Wild Life: Soul will be available on August 7th.  
You can read some of my thoughts on Ghosts upon the Earth here or I am Mountain here and here.

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