One of the greatest aspects of the digital age of music is access to an abundance of genres. Never before have music listeners been able to dabble in lots of types of music at once, and it's a fantastic opportunity for musicians to take creative cues from lots of influences. With so many more sounds in the popular consciousness, genres are then continually mixed together, and the worship music is no exception. Perhaps it was the explosion of bands like Mumford and Sons that made upbeat folk music ubiquitous in the soundscape, but many folk-influenced worship bands have sprung up in churches all over, and I Am They is the next band in this fold to make their move.
I Am They started off well as an indie worship band from Carson City, Nevada, and after listening to only a few tracks of their independently produced 2011 EP The Prelude, it reveals some key aspects to the sextet's musical experience. With three richly gifted lead singers (that legitimately sound great both solo and together) and an accomplished acoustic aspect to their sound, their only missing piece was polished songwriting, and a seasoned producer would be the key to the next level. Once I Am They was discovered and subsequently signed to Provident, their self-titled debut is the result of this professional boost. From the get-go, the band's first national single "From the Day" indicates a youthful, folksy band with lots of pop musicianship at full force. With great harmonies and even a prominent banjo, I Am They immediately reminds the listener of Rend Collective, which is not a bad comparison.
It's only when "From the Day" is held up with the rest of the album that the overall result feels less unique. "We Are Yours" and "Your Love Is Mine" feel like mere radio fodder; though the latter has an undeniable hook, its unimaginative chorus keeps the song too close to the ground ("love will rise, death will die, Your love is mine / stains washed white, You paid the price, Your love is mine"). There are lots of lyrics like these throughout I Am They: truthful, but not terribly creative. Much more regrettable, however, are "Over and Over Again" and "Even Me," which are simply filler tracks to get the tracklisting to ten songs. These are the marks of an album that's highly marketable, though not necessarily one that's interesting in the long run.
Granted, some cuts on I Am They are better than others. "King of Love" is great a modernized hymn (from "The King of Love My Shepherd Is") that's mildly reminiscent of Keith & Kristyn Getty's work. "Here's My Heart" and "Amen" are decent closers, as well; the former is a great acoustic ballad that effectively takes its time, and the latter is a grand finish (though the strings in the background get exhausting pretty quickly). These enjoyable moments keep the album afloat, but when other artists in the field offer more artistically complete folk sounds and meatier songwriting (like Keith & Kristyn Getty, Rend Collective, Preson Phillips, and Stuart Townend), there's less room for an inconsistent effort like I Am They.
One listen of I Am They's debut reveals a band that's fully functional but not hitting on all cylinders. The songwriting is good enough for a debut, but it's not at all surprising, and the album doesn't dig too deep overall. The good news is that they're a talented band that already possess the tools for creative success. With tightened up songwriting and less focus on the well-worn contemporary path, I Am They can create something all their own and truly memorable. For now, I Am They's debut uncovers plenty of holes that experience, and a matured approach, can surely help to fill.- Review date: 1/25/15, written by Roger Gelwicks of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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