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JFH Music Review


The City Harmonic, We Are
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The City Harmonic
We Are



Artist Info: Discography
Genre(s): Pop Rock / Worship
Album length: 11 tracks: 43 minutes, 54 seconds
Street Date: September 4, 2015


READER RATING:   


For better or for worse, the "anthem" has become the standard song format for artists who write worship music for popular consumption. I'm not sure who it was that originally came up with the idea of putting out full albums of anthems, but whoever it was really painted themselves into a corner. Such albums have historically been overly bombastic, repetitive, often kitsch, and as dense as cotton candy. There is a place for music with power, emotion, soaring choruses, catchy hooks, and dynamic roller coasters all for the glory of God, but it is safe to say that that place is not next to a dozen or so other songs with such traits. Or is it...?

The City Harmonic was introduced to the world with an EP that proved they could write a fantastic worship anthem, and they solidified that notion with an anthem-heavy approach on their first full-length album. They backed off that trend and wrote a better-rounded, more artistic-minded album in 2013. But with We Are, the band seems to have challenged themselves that they can create a great album purely out of worship anthems, complete with big vocals, big drums, big dynamics, and big... well, pretty much everything. And as a testament to the talent of the band, they somehow managed to make it work fairly well.

"We Are One" wastes no time hitting listeners hard with an explosion of sound after a short piano hook, and continues on to establish the album's theme of unity ("We are all for one / For the glory of the one true God"). Album highlight "Maranatha" continues the momentum with powerful drums, an organ, and a hint of bagpipes. The comparatively-relaxed "Into Yours Arms" leads into the hymn-rewrite, "Solid Rock." Much like other hymn interpretations released in recent years, I can personally take or leave this one. While infinitely better than the other modern reinterpretation of "Solid Rock" that has been popular in recent years (I'm looking at you, "Cornerstone"), the band's attempt to both modernize and keep the spirit of the original lead to forced phrases like "In Christ the solid rock I stand / and all through the pouring rain / no I won't be afraid" or "All The other ground is sinking sand / Yes, I've got everything I need." Call it a misstep if you want, but one thing it does not lack is ambition.

"Shout" is a fun and infectious tune that might suffer from being too similar (though not in sound) to the previous "Maranatha." "Let There Be Light" and "All This & More" both bring the tempo down a bit while keeping the trend of anthems working strong, and the dynamic roller coaster "Oh What Love" brings it down even more (this is the first song that one could reasonably describe as mellow). The finest lyrical moment of the album follows in "Confession (Agnus Dei)," cleverly singing on one of my favorite lyrics of the year, "Christ, what have we done? / Oh my God, what have we become?" in a song saying we are sinners who have rebelled against and abuse God. The fact that I feel surprised to hear those phrases uttered reverently given the culture in which we live attest to that fact all the more. "Still And Small" finally steps up to mellow things out a bit before one more big push in the album's closer, "One."

The relative flaws of this album are obvious. For one thing, the anthem format inherently makes lyrical depth a challenge since it isn't communicated well over bombastic music. Plus, since they are working with a sound so tailor-made for radio and corporate worship success, it would be foolish to expect We Are to contain the level of quality and intimacy of an album like 2013's Heart. But they do an excellent job working within the confines they chose for themselves, and the actual music has legitimate artistic merit, and is demanding of multiple re-plays. One might make the argument that The City Harmonic's approach to We Are was a fairly safe one, and they might have a point and a good argument, but that is not how it came across to this reviewer. There is an intelligence and a vision to this album that is lacking in most other projects that try the anthem-heavy approach, and it was not hard for me to appreciate this album.

- Review date: 9/2/15, written by Mark Rice of Jesusfreakhideout.com



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JFH Staff's Second Opinion



With We Are, The City Harmonic focuses on unity of the body, especially reflecting on the foundation and purpose of their band. TCH sought to return to the styles of their debut album, but there seems to be something missing in these songs. They still have the power and upbeat-ness of the original album, as well as the chants of truth that listeners feel compelled to join in on, but there is a certain sincerity that they lack.

The opening song, "We Are One," sets the tone of proclamation that follows in the rest of the tracks. In almost every song, there is a moment when a choir joins in with the band to shout some truth. "Solid Rock" begins strong with what sounds like a choir of lumberjacks singing "Woahoooahoah" while stomping and clapping, but disappointment sets in when that fades into a mesh of piano and drums. Although the poppy layers blend together in the first half of the album, the second half contains some authentic worship songs that compare more to some of their best songs; "Manifesto" and "Benediction." "Oh What Love" reflects on the powerful love of God and of his son Jesus, and "Confession (Agnus Dei)" refers to the concept of Jesus as the Lamb of God, revealing the feeling of guilt and sorrow for causing such a sacrifice to be necessary. "Still and Small," a little acoustic piece with sweet vocals and poignant lyrics, seems to be the most honest track on the album. The band begs, "Spirit speak still and small," and that is quite possibly how this song will speak to listeners more than all the other ones in this album. In the final track, "One," TCH returns to the idea of one-ness, reflecting on God being three-in-one, and the desire for Christians to join as one body.

Fans of TCH should hold their judgement until the end of the album where they'll find songs that contain more of the depth and meaning they would expect from the band. They might be surprised by what they find there. - Review date: 8/31/15, written by Emmalee Manes

 

. Record Label: Integrity Music
. Album length: 11 tracks: 43 minutes, 54 seconds
. Street Date: September 4, 2015
. Buy It: iTunes
. Buy It: Amazon.com
. Buy It: Amazon Music (MP3)

  1. We Are One (3:37)
  2. Maranatha (4:27)
  3. Into Your Arms (3:57)
  4. Solid Rock (2:56)
  5. Shout (4:02)
  6. Let There Be Light (3:41)
  7. All of This & More (4:08)
  8. Oh What Love (4:58)
  9. Confession (Agnus Dei) (4:27)
  10. Still and Small (3:20)
  11. One (4:27)

 



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