The CMYK print process uses tiny dots of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink to create images beyond those few colors. Up close and individually the small marks don't appear to be much, but together they give a picture of vibrancy, beauty, and meaning. Using this concept as inspiration for his new EP series CMY(K), Justin McRoberts explores the stories of friends and his own personal wrestling with the different colors of life in the Christian faith. The second installment, M, like its predecessor C from earlier this year, is a collection of five acoustic reflections that explore the tensions of faith and doubt, perseverance and despair.
M is musically sparse, rooted in slow and somber acoustic backdrops for his confessional, and sometimes confrontational, writing. Some guest vocalists, including Waterdeep's Lori Chaffer, add an extra touch of resonance, while pedal steel, cello, and piano give richness to the sound. The result is a classy sound that doesn't distract from the lyrics' communication.
The most prominent theme on M is the tension of faith and doubt in the face of a world that rarely makes sense, and "Heaven Knows I Want To" sets the tone with the perspective of a man who wants to believe but struggles to make the final confession. In just a few lines, he captures the struggle to simply accept: "You have asked me to follow / To believe and obey / But the very thought of it / Is what keeps me away." This realization that faith is rarely simple is reinforced in "Where Believing Ends," a deft and darkly humorous skewering of modern worship and blind acceptance: "If all you are is all we say / And nothing else / Then you're just one more sad projection of ourselves."
In spite of the darkness, the intellectual struggle, and the questions, this album is not entirely dark and certainly not anti-Christian. Some listeners may bristle at the harsh ideas he explores, but it's a good kind of tension that is often overlooked in Christian songwriting, leaving happy resolution behind to capture moments of honest humanity. "Courage to Believe" lightens the mood a bit, a straight-up worship song on the surface, complete with a lilting, hymn-like vibe and simple, honest lyrics. On a deeper level, it presents an alternative to despair, that the very strength and courage to believe, or even ask for faith, comes from a God who is both "in the praises of [His] people" and "the silences between." Another interesting and hopeful twist comes in "33," in which McRoberts reflects on his father's suicide, while proclaiming a strength that will keep him from letting his own son and future grandchildren down.
"Diseases that have Cures," like much of the rest of the EP, doesn't really resolve, but asks hard questions of God before subtly turning the question back around to his people: "They say your love is great / But maybe they should wait / Until it's their child dying of diseases that have cures." The conclusion, in a twist ending, suggests that perhaps God knows exactly how it feels -- "They're all your children aren't they?" -- and the questions left hanging in the air signify that the search isn't over, that perhaps the contention never will be as the cycles of assurance and doubt, faith and despair, roll on.
M is not the most musically groundbreaking thing to release this year, but it just might be one of the more challenging. The dark, ugly colors of life are juxtaposed against beauty and truth to form a soundtrack to the tension, giving a voice to the unresolved questions that many believers feel and find hard to express. Poignant, earnest singing and sparse yet beautiful compositions enhance the gravity of the lyrics and ease the intensity of the subject matter, making M another lovely addition to the EP series.- Review date: 10/25/11, written by Jen Rose of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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